The two IDF soldiers killed in the car-ramming attack in the West Bank on Friday were mourned by relatives and friends on Saturday, who separately recalled the slain servicemen for their kindness and “heart of gold.”
Sgt. Netanel Kahalani, 20, from Elyakim in northern Israel, was buried early on Sunday in the cemetery in his hometown, with thousands in attendance, according to Hebrew reports.
“I have not yet processed this and I don’t know if I can go on,” said his father, Danny Kahalani, at the funeral, according to the Ynet news website. “I loved you so much, and I lost you in a second. Twenty years is nothing, but I am thankful for them.”
On Friday afternoon, 26-year-old Ala Qabha rammed his car into the group of soldiers outside a military post in the northern West Bank, near the Mevo Dotan settlement, killing Kahalani and Capt. Ziv Daos. The army later designated the car-ramming as a terror attack.
“Netanel was a gift,” Naomi Kahalani, the mother of the slain soldier, told reporters on Saturday night, ahead of the 20-year-old’s funeral. “I thank God for giving me this child. He had a heart of gold, a pure soul. He was an incredible child.”
“Everyone loved him, he helped everyone, always smiling,” she said. “He never held a grudge against anyone.”
Daos, 21, from the central town of Azor, was a platoon commander in a Home Front Command search and rescue unit. He was posthumously promoted to the rank of captain. Daos’s funeral was scheduled for Sunday at 12:00 p.m. at the military cemetery in Holon.
Two other soldiers, who were seriously injured in the terror attack, remained in the hospital as of Saturday night. The army did not release their names.
Shirel Sharabi, a high school friend of Daos, told the Ynet news website the late IDF officer was slated to be released from his military service on Thursday.
“I’m broken. We were good friends for years in high school,” she said. “He was always the most successful, the smartest, the most talented. He was the one everyone wanted to be around. Modest and quiet, yet so powerful. He was a guy with a heart of gold and a pure soul.”
On Saturday, the Shin Bet security agency said Qabha confessed to carrying out the attack. It said Qabha initially claimed the incident was an accident, but later changed his story, and said it was deliberate and that he intended to murder soldiers.
The security agency said that it appeared that he acted alone, and possibly spontaneously.
Qabha did a U-turn on the road before plowing into the soldiers, and accelerated into them, Israeli TV reports said Saturday, leaving no doubt that the attack was deliberate.
Qabha’s family insisted the deadly incident was an accident. His father told the Walla news site Saturday that his son is not affiliated with any terrorist group, and did not intentionally target Israeli troops. “This isn’t the first car accident like this and won’t be the last,” Rateb Qabha said. “You hear about accidents like these every day in the news.”
Earlier Saturday, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot confirmed that Israeli forces arrested Qabha’s brother and an uncle in the family’s hometown of Barta’a, outside Jenin. Both relatives were suspected of helping him carry out the deadly attack.
Forces also mapped out Qabha’s home in preparation for its demolition, conducted a broader search of the village for illegal weapons, and continued security checks of cars in the roads surrounding Barta’a.
“I know my son well,” his father said. “This is a young man who works, he dreams of getting married and having a family. He doesn’t have [terrorist] leanings… I extend my condolences to the families of the victims,” Qabha added.
Qabha also told Walla the family rejected Hamas’s praise for the attack.
Asked about reports in Hebrew-language media that his son was known to Israeli intelligence services, and had recently been released from prison, Qabha downplayed the allegations, saying that Ala had gotten in trouble once “for stone throwing or something like that.”
An unnamed family representative added that Ala had “made a mistake” in the past, but that it should not be held against him
Qabha was injured and hospitalized for treatment.
Media showed footage of a smashed and mangled white car. Channel 10 news said the Palestinian plowed the vehicle into the group of soldiers as they dismounted from a jeep and walked toward a guard post.
Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who heads COGAT, the Israeli liaison for Palestinian civilian affairs in the West Bank, ordered in response to the attack “an immediate and broad suspension” of permits for employment in Israel “for the entire family of the assailant.”
The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas welcomed the attack, saying it “proves our people’s readiness to continue the Jerusalem intifada,” and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group also also said it “commended” the attack and urged “further attacks against the Zionist occupation.”
Neither group took responsibility for the attack.
Judah Ari Gross, Jacob Magid contributed to this report.