On February 21st, the Radcliffes, a family of Black-Hebrews living in Dimona received a dreaded 3AM knock on their door. IDF officers had come to tell them that their 19 year-old daughter, Toveet, who’d been serving in an intelligence unit of the Israeli Air Force at the Palmachim air base, had been shot and killed three hours earlier. The first version told to the family was that she’d died in her bedroom at the base. The army told them it would return later that morning with further news.
In that second visit, which happened at 1PM, four hours later than the army had promised, the overall commander of the air base, Brig. Gen. Nimrod Shifroni, arrived with the army contingent. I consulted with a former IDF officer who’s familiar with cases in which soldiers either died or committed suicide. She told me it’s entirely out of protocol for this to happen. Curiously, Toveet’s own commanding officer was not among them. He has never visited nor communicated in the four days since she died.
Toveet was in the final year of her IDF service, scheduled to be released this coming summer. Until a few weeks ago, she’d been serving in a different base. She was then transferred to Palmachim against her will. She was given leave before assuming her new position and returned home, where she told her mother she would not go. She refused for an entire week. Finally, her mother persuaded her to report to Palmachim. Within ten days, she would be dead.
From the photos in her Facebook account and an interview I had with a close family friend, she comes across as a typical young woman. Smiles abound. Flirtatious poses with girlfriends. Lots of colorful outfits and a fashion consciousness. The family friend told me that Toveet was a sweet, petite, attractive girl. Very kind and soft-spoken. She called her “a sweet little butterfly. She never raised her voice, had a soft presence and would do anything for anyone.” Toveet was also a vegan and, as you can see below, an artist.
On her Facebook page, a friend who also served in the army featured this painting created by Toveet and her best girl-friend, with the heartbreaking caption:
“Only a true-given Yah mind!” Can think and paint such a beautiful painting of herself. Being able to see herself through Yah’s eyes gifted from birth!. R.I.P Toveet Radcliffe You’ll always be in our hart’s and have our love.! “FAMO Sister!!!”
The afternoon following Toveet’s death, five senior officers arrived including, as I wrote above, the base commander. Instead of consoling the family as you would expect, they asked troubling private questions meant to elicit damaging information confirming that Toveet either was troubled or came from a troubled home. A member of the family ended that line of questioning.
The IDF contingent then offered the family a different account of the victim’s death than they heard during the 3AM visit. This time, they said she had been in the security shack on guard duty around midnight in a top-secret highly classified portion of the base. They told the family that she’d killed herself by shooting herself in the face twice with her own M16 rifle.
Anyone who has reviewed suicide statistics and profiles of victims knows that very few women kill themselves with firearms and even fewer do so by shooting themselves in the face. Not to mention, how and why does someone intending to kill themselves shoot themselves twice! Also, Toveet was around 5 feet 2 inches tall. Given the length of the barrel of her gun and relative shortness her own arms, it would be almost impossible for her to shoot herself in the head.
The former officer I interviewed said her own review of many such military cases revealed only one case in which a female soldier had committed suicide with a gun. She has never heard of a case in which a female soldier killed herself by shooting herself in the face. She also said she’s never heard of a suicide in which the gun was fired twice.
When the Radcliffe family asked whether any other soldier accompanied her on duty, they said no. Toveet herself had told her mother that women doing guard duty at night must be accompanied by a second soldier. They may not work alone. When the family asked if there was any surveillance footage of the area where she died, they were told there wasn’t. The IDF tells them Toveet was patrolling a top-secret portion of the base which did not have video surveillance? Is that credible?
בסיס פלמחים: חיילת כבת 19 ירתה לעצמה בראשה . http://t.co/berikgpguV
— סקופים רוטר.נט (@RotterNews) February 21, 2015
The army said that Toveet’s body was discovered at the end of her 10PM-12 midnight shift. Only 47 minutes later, someone posted a notice to Rotter about her death! How does that happen? Some IDF ghoul tells a gossip site a girl’s been murdered and her own family doesn’t find out until three hours later?! It’s obscene. This is the translation of the above tweet:
Palmachin AFB: 19 year-old soldier shot herself in the head.
Of course, it’s possible a soldier from the base leaked the story, but who would do something like this? Part of me believes this might’ve been the murderer himself though that’s speculation.
During their family visit, the IDF representatives told the family they were prepared to conduct a burial within a few hours. The family said they wanted her body cremated. The army told them that cremations aren’t performed in Israel. They did find someone who would cremate her but then the army decided that the charges for his services were too expensive.
At that point, the family decided they wanted their own independent autopsy. This raised concerns with the army. They wanted to know who the pathologist would be and wanted him to sign an agreement with the military before he would be permitted to do the job.
So far, three days after Toveet’s death, no one in the family has seen her body. No one has identified her. The army says they will not permit this until her birth father, who has never visited Israel before, comes and gives permission. Why does the IDF refuse the mother who raised her and has permanent custody of her the right to see her daughter’s body?
My strong suspicion is that Toveet was murdered. Given that a number of IDF commanders in the past few months have been cashiered for sexual abuse and the fact that sexual violence is common in the IDF, my hunch is that she was murdered by someone at the base. The IDF seems to be moving heaven and earth to cover-up the real cause of her death, which indicates to me that if she was killed it was by a superior officer. If a low-ranking soldier had done this, the IDF would not go to the extraordinary lengths it has.
As I talked to the close family friend I mentioned, it was clear that the Radcliffes don’t want vengeance. No one wants their pound of flesh. No one wants to get a high price lawyer and sue. This is a family living on the periphery. They have little material means and no friends on high places. What they do have is their dignity and a child who was a butterfly handed to the army for safekeeping. What did it do to her?
This family, part of the Black Hebrew community discriminated against for decades by an Israeli government that refused to recognized them either as Jews or as Israeli citizens, only wants the truth. They want the IDF to come clean and tell them what really happened. Is that too much to ask?
A pertinent consideration for this discussion is that for many Black-Hebrew families, the only path to legitimacy in Israeli society is through serving in the IDF. Though the older generation can’t do that, their children can. The State has agreed to offer citizenship to children who serve in the Army. It’s for this reason that Toveet’s military service, which was scheduled to end this summer, was so important to her and her family.
UPDATE: Carmela Menashe, Israeli TV military correspondent, just told me that this incident is under investigation by the military police. This is more than the family has been told until now. But at least it’s something. Given the history of the military police and prosecutor this doesn’t guarantee justice will be done. But at least there’s that possibility now.
UPDATE II: For Hebrew speakers, Channel 2 posted this to its Facebook account and then removed it. It appears that either the IDF military censor removed it or there is a gag order preventing publication. What’s interesting about this post is that it’s written from the perspective of a female IDF officer. I wish I knew who was the author. Maybe someone out there knows?
החיילת טובית רדקליף מקהילת העבריים בדימונה נהרגה אתמול בבסיס שלה.
צבא הגנה לישראל ידע לבוא להודיע למשפחתה על מה שקרה והוסיף כי אינו יכול לעשות לה הלוייה מפני שהיא לא אזרחית.רק מה שאני לא מבינה זה אם היא לא אזרחית איך היא גוייסה לצבא?ומעבר לזה…איך זה הגיוני לא לעשות הלוויה למישהי שבחרה לקחת חלק במסגרת הזאת בשביל לעזור להגן על המדינה ולתרום שנתיים מחייה –
הכבוד המינימאלי שמגיע לה ולכל אדם הוא קבורה ראויה!
מעבר לזה,הצבא גם מיהר לקבור אותה בלי לבדוק ולחקור כמו שצריך את נסיבות המוות שנותרו כסימן שאלה! זה נראה לכם הגיוני שתמות בחורה ואף אחד לא יידע ב100% מה קרה??
הצבא דואג לטאטא מתחת לשטיח מקרים קשים ואי אפשר לעבור על זה בשתיקה!
איך אני יכולה לקום בבוקר,ללכת לצבא בידיעה שאם חס וחלילה יקרה לי משהו מחר בבסיס יש סיכוי שהצבא בכלל לא יבדוק מה קרה? ימהר לקבור את הגופה ושהסיפור אפילו לא יגיע לעיתונות.
מעציב אותי בתור מפקדת,חיילת,ישראלית ובת אדם! משתתפת בצער המשפחה.
שתפו את המקרה הנורא כדי שאולי העוול יתוקן.
הכאב יישאר גדול אבל המעט שאפשר לעשות הוא להקל ולתת למשפחתה וחבריה את התשובות שמגיעות להם.”
Special h/t to David Sheen.