Thousands turned out to pay their final respects Sunday evening to the three IDF soldiers who were killed over the weekend by an Egyptian policeman along the border.
Sgt. Lia Ben Nun, 19, was laid to rest at the military cemetery in Rishon Lezion, Staff Sgt. Ori Yitzhak Iluz, 20 was buried at the military cemetery in Safed, and Staff Sgt. Ohad Dahan, 20, was interred at the military cemetery in Ofakim.
The three soldiers served in the mixed-gender light infantry Bardelas and Caracal battalions tasked with guarding the border.
Ben-Nun’s sister, Ofir, eulogized Lia, describing the soldier as “a ray of sunshine.”
“I can’t digest that she won’t come back, what she went through,” said Ofir, who said Ben-Nun loved her army service and was “proud” to serve. “Thank you for being my sister for 19 years,” she added. “Watch over us from above.”
“How can we talk about you in the past tense,” mourned Ben-Nun’s aunt Pazit Sudari.
Lieutenant Colonel Ivan Kon, the commander of the IDF Bardalas battalion in which Ben-Nun served, described the soldier as “a figure of success from the start.”
“You were a role model, a warrior, your character and legacy will accompany us forever,” he added.
Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, representing the government, said Lia “is a hero who fell guarding the homeland, fell in order to give us peace and security.”
However, Ben-Nun’s grandmother shouted at Ohana, “Isn’t it a waste of her? Now she is in the ground,” the Kan public broadcaster reported.
In Ofakim, where Dahan was laid to rest, his girlfriend Dana cried out: “How could you leave me like this with all of our plans — you promised me that we would be forever, and now what? Now, I am left alone.”
“You were my strength,” she said. “Thank you for everything you taught me.”
Colonel Ido Sa’ad, commander of the Paran Brigade which includes the Bardelas and Caracal battalions, said Dahan was “an exemplary example to every soldier.”
“You showed what a warrior and hero you are,” he said, describing Dahan’s actions as deciding the final outcome of the clash in which the infiltrating gunman was killed. “Your passing is an unimaginable loss. Your image will always remain with us. Thank you for what you were.”
Iluz’s father, Shai Iluz, declared: “I’m proud of you, I love you, I’m proud that you chose me to be your father. I’m proud of everything you’ve been for us and we all ask you for forgiveness.”
Speaking at the funeral, Shai said that one must not question God as to why such things happen, but, he lamented, “How can I not ask why? How can I bear it?”
Shai noted that his son’s funeral was held on the same day as the memorial of his father, who died seven years earlier, and that Ori was named after the grandparent.
“We are sending you a grandchild,” Shai said addressing his deceased father.
Deputy commander of the Paran battalion, Aviad Gadasi, said that Iluz was a commander who was “the salt of the earth.”
“The fast pace, the power to laugh, the concern made you a commander who was loved and adored by all. Loyal to the task and performing it to the best of your ability,” Gadasi said. “We are still having trouble digesting the news that hit us. Although you are no longer with us, your image will always remain with us. Ori the hero, rest in peace.”
Among those who attended the funeral was former prime minister Naftali Bennett.
According to the IDF’s initial probe, the Egyptian policeman infiltrated through the border through an emergency gate early Saturday morning. The small gate — held shut with just zip ties — is used by the IDF to cross the border when necessary, in coordination with the Egyptian army. The Egyptian army has claimed that the officer crossed the border to chase after suspects in a drug smuggling incident.
The Egyptian policeman was believed to have snuck up to a guard post and opened fire sometime between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., killing Ben Nun and Iluz. After the soldiers did not answer calls on the radio on Saturday morning, shortly before their shift was set to end at 9 a.m., an officer went to the scene and discovered the pair dead near the post.
After the officer discovered Ben Nun and Iluz’s bodies at around 9 a.m., military officials declared a terror incident in the area and began searches.
The intruder was spotted by a drone and soldiers converged on his position.
The attacker opened fire at a group of soldiers approaching the area — some 200 meters (656 feet) away — fatally hitting Dahan. Several minutes later, another group of soldiers closed in on the Egyptian, killing him. One non-commissioned officer was lightly wounded in the second clash before noon.
The IDF and the Egyptian army were jointly probing the attacker’s motives.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi on Sunday appointed a general to lead an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident.