Over the last month, members of Israel’s African Hebrew community have begun to organize over an apparent cover-up in the death of Toveet Radcliffe, a nineteen-year-old soldier who was found shot in the head, on the night between February 21 and 22, 2015.
The African Hebrews are are a group of African-Americans based in Dimona who embraced Afro-Hebraic religious practices and immigrated to Israel from the United States beginning in the 1970s. Not recognized as Jewish by the Israeli government, they are heavily discriminated against though they serve in the military.
For nearly a year, the army would not tell Radcliffe’s family who was responsible for her death. They were told multiple versions of events, initially saying she was found in her bed on base with two gunshots to the head, and then that she was found at her post in her guard booth with a single shot to the brain.
Dimona resident David Sheen has been the only journalist to cover Radcliffe’s case. In addition to the contradictions in the army’s official version of events, signs of evidence tampering and that some evidence has been censored from the army’s official report.
Among the most egregious examples that Sheen found is the army’s allegation that she killed herself in a way that is virtually impossible for someone of her stature. Curiously, the army claimed no other person was involved in her death, but did not rule it a suicide.
These dubious claims of the army, among others, have led many to believe Toveet Radcliffe was murdered.
It appears that her story is beginning to catch the attention of soldiers too. One African Hebrew soldier who recently left the army told me Radcliffe’s death has become a topic of conversation on her base, a different one than the Palmachim Air Force base where Radcliffe was found dead.
In recent weeks, a small but growing group of locals has been posting flyers and engaging passersby at an information table in the town’s central square.
But authorities have been pushing back.
Last weekend, Dimona resident and African Hebrew Barkai Brinson was detained and fined by police when he posted a flier about Radcliffe’s death.
In a Brinson posted to social media, a security guard approaches him and commands him to stop.
Another video he filmed and uploaded shows Brinson in the back of a police vehicle.
Brinson was issued a 500 NIS ($131) fine and released.
In the town square, an information table set up by Shemohn and Khaya Osher along with a few other locals is beginning to cause a stir, and a petition to reopen investigate Radcliffe’s death has 5,000 signatures.
“Mainly I get two responses,” Shemohn Osher explained. “One group who is supportive because they’ve experienced similar situations with their own families and loved ones. On the other hand you have those who tell us to give up, and that we don’t stand a chance against the military, and that you’re wasting your time.”
Osher estimates that detractors account for 20% of responses.
Israeli media outlets are beginning to pick up on the story as well. Yediot Ahronoth, Israel’s most-widely read newspaper, recently published a story on the case.