Cpl. Toveet Radcliffe, 19, was found dead at the Palmachim Airbase in February 2015 with a gunshot wound to the head. She was the first combat soldier from the Black Hebrews community, and served in a Patriot battery in the Yahalom air defense battalion.
"It's important to us that you understand we're angry and disappointed by the treatment we've received over the years," said Prince Emmanuel, one of the leaders of the Black Hebrews.
"We can't help but feeling that things would've seemed different if Toveet hadn't been a black girl from the Black Hebrews community in Dimona," he charged.
"Regardless of the result, we understood that in this case, accepted protocols were not followed, otherwise we wouldn't be feeling this way," Emmanuel added.
The investigation by the IDF's Criminal Investigation Division (CID) determined Radcliffe took her own life, but her parents refused to accept that and launched an independent investigation, which found numerous failures in the CID's conduct.
The Radcliffe family took the case to the military court, demanding to have an in-depth and thorough investigation into their daughter's death.
Forensic work not done, lines of inquiry ignoredA military judge, Lt. Col. Meir Vigiser, was appointed to investigate the case. He raised many questions concerning the investigation conducted by the CID, which was found to have ignored testimonies and caused important evidence to disappear.
The most serious oversight, according to Lt. Col. Vigiser, was the fact the CID did not call a mobile forensics lab to the scene.
The judge noted that since there was no indication of suicidal tendencies, and there were no witnesses to the incident, there was cause to call the forensics lab to the scene. "There was cause to check the possibility of another person's fingerprints on the weapon," Vigiser determined.
Another oversight discovered during the investigation was the fact the CID investigators failed to identify a bullet hole in the door of the guard post, while the bullet shells at the scene weren't collected. In addition, the CID didn't test for the presence of gunpowder on Radcliffe's hands.
"I believe if it were found that the deceased did not touch the weapon, there would've been a stronger possibility the shooting was done by someone else," the judge said.
Furthermore, Vigiser wondered why "the deceased's mother's claims that one of the soldiers in her unit threatened her, and that she was being harassed, weren't investigated."
The mother, Vigiser noted, begged the CID to investigate the claims. "The fact these lines on inquiry were left unchecked is unacceptable. The investigative authorities and the Military Advocate General's Office were in a rush to close the case," the judge said. "In the course of our own investigation, we tried to examine those allegations of threats and harassment, but the time that has passed was to our detriment," as witnesses had a hard time remembering what had happened.
Vigiser further noted the unexplained loss of Radcliffe' weapon sling and the fact the CID failed to seize security footage and the logs of those who entered and left the base that day.
Despite finding these serious shortcomings in the investigation, the judge accepted both the family's and the army's claims.
He noted that in the absence of suicidal tendencies, it was also possible negligent operation of the weapon by the deceased caused her death.
He ruled out the possibility the death was caused as a result of a criminal offense, noting "it can be determined with a high degree of certainty that the deceased's death was self-inflicted."
Vigiser asserted the investigation's shortcomings that cannot be remedied make it difficult to reach a conclusion with a complete degree of certainty, and determined the investigation should be closed after all avenues have been explored.
'What do we tell the soldiers who see this injustice?'Black Hebrews leader Emmanuel claimed that "no one examined Toveet in an effective manner, and no one is paying for that," adding that "there was no gunfire residue next to her because it was cleaned up; no one examined the weapon and no one heard the gunshot, either. There's a problematic picture here, and despite that the judge determined she shot herself. This cannot be ignored."
Emmanuel also brought up another incident, in which one of the members of the community - Hasedia Bat Israel - was bombarded by racial slurs.
"One of our sons asked me yesterday: 'Are we not model citizens? We follow the Torah and serve the state, what's the problem?' I thought about it and realized something bad is happening, and it is time to fix it. Someone needs to pay for this negligence," he said.
Elimelech Ben Israel, also part of the Black Hebrews' leadership, explained that "Our goal is to get to the truth. This bad quality investigation has only increased our frustration and suspicions. The investigating judge agreed with these conclusions and said the findings were inconclusive."
He said this fact "leaves an opening for an additional investigation, which would not benefit the army. They want this case to disappear."
"Our second goal is to ensure all of our teens serve in the army, but it is unacceptable that they will protect everyone while they are unsafe," Ben Israel continued.
She'ifa Bat Israel, who represents the women in the community, turned to parents all across Israel who send their children to the IDF, saying, "The obvious question is, what do we say to the new recruits? 'Defend the country, but also yourself?' The soldiers see injustice in this case."
Attorney Yaffit Weinsbuch, who represents Toveet's parents, said the family rejects the investigating judge's assessment that the soldier accidentally shot herself. "Whoever shot Toveet hasn't been found, and he has been walking free for close to three years without having answered for his actions," she said.
Weinsbuch added the parents plan to appeal the case to the High Court of Justice and ask the attorney general to order the Israel Police to launch an independent and separate investigation.
The IDF said in response, "An investigating judge appointed by the military court to examine the circumstances behind the death of the late Cpl. Toveet Radcliffe determined with a high degree of certainty that her death was self-inflicted, without the involvement of another person. In addition, the judge determined there is no way to determine with any degree of certainty whether the gunshot was intentional or caused by the weapon malfunctioning.
"The investigating judge's conclusions are in line with the legal opinion formulated in the Military Advocate General's Office concerning this case, based on the findings of the CID investigation conducted following Toveet's death."