Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral Sunday in Petah Tikva of Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, who was killed by Palestinian sniper fire on the Gaza border on Friday.
Levi, a 21-year-old from Petah Tikva, was an infantry soldier in the Givati Brigade. He was the first IDF fatality on the Gaza front since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
“It is not easy to eulogize a child. It is not natural,” said Levi’s father, Yaakov, to the crowd of mourners, the Ynet news site reported.
“You were a ray of light for us, glowing and smiling. We loved to watch you grow into the man you became. You were the salt of the earth and paid the highest price because you excelled. You did not evade any task, big or small. You watched over your friends. We are not parting from you — you will be with us forever.”
Levi was close to Kibbutz Kisufim by the Gaza border when he was shot at around 5:30pm on Friday. The army said he was killed by a Hamas gunman and that there was an exchange of fire. He was the first IDF fatality on the Gaza front since Operation Protective Edge in 2014. Levi was wearing a bulletproof vest when he was hit in the chest, and was initially listed as seriously wounded but his condition deteriorated quickly.
Levi’s sister Noy also spoke of the family’s loss.
“It was not your time to leave us. You were a wonderful brother, a figure to admire, a thoughtful boy and a very handsome and special man,” she said.
Before the funeral, Levi’s father spoke of a son who shone in all areas of life.
“My son was amazing, respectful and very precious,” said Yaakov.
“He never ran from any responsibility, and that is what ultimately led to his death. It is a great loss. He was a good boy, outstanding student, and he would have achieved greatness,” he told the Walla news site.
“Everything he did was… successful. He worried and looked after everybody. Every time before he came back from the army his mother would prepare his room and buy everything for him. His bedroom was like the bedroom of princes. When he returned, she would hold him and not let go,” he said.
“On Friday his mother spoke to him at noon. He was tired, exhausted — she could feel it. He said he was out in the field from dawn to dusk, that it wasn’t easy. She had a bad feeling about the conversation, but she didn’t feel that something so awful was going to happen.”
In an interview with the Ynet news site, Levi’s uncle told of a soldier who understood his responsibilities.
“The battalion commander said that he trusted him no less than his commanders,” said Noam Levi.
Staff Sgt. Levi was the oldest of four siblings. His parents and two siblings were on vacation in Italy when he was killed.
“Orian, his brother who serves in the Golani brigade, received a phone call from his commander on Friday. He asked him to return home. When he reached the house, representatives from the army were waiting for him,” Noam Levi retold.
“His parents were in Italy when the military attache came to their hotel and told them the awful news. That was a terrible time. The military representatives then waited with them and escorted them on the flight. A family vacation turned into mourning.”
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Levi’s girlfriend, Shahar Erez, wrote of a fearless young man with whom she was planning a future.
“My dearest love, my fighter. The heart burns and the tears don’t stop. Who would have thought you’d be gone so quickly?” she wrote.
“You were never scared, no matter what you faced. My Aviv, we had a million plans ahead of us and we were counting the days until we’d be together again. In two weeks you have a birthday, and while I was making plans for a perfect birthday celebration, everything exploded.
“I refuse to believe this is real. I refuse to believe you are gone,” she went on.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that Levi fought terror in Gaza “with determination and bravery, and to our great sorrow, sometimes this struggle bears a very price.”
“I am sending condolences from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of myself and on behalf of all Israeli citizens, to his family,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
“Levi fell defending the nation, the land and the residents of the Gaza periphery. My heart is with his family this evening. May his memory be blessed,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman wrote in a tweet Saturday.
After Levi’s death on Friday, Israel unleashed an offensive it says destroyed more than 60 Hamas targets, including three battalion headquarters. Four Palestinians were killed, of which Hamas said three were its fighters.
“The attack delivered a severe blow to Hamas’s training array, command and control abilities, weaponry, aerial defense and logistic capabilities along with additional military infrastructure,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding that the strikes “will intensify as necessary.”
In a statement early Saturday, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the movement accepted the ceasefire brokered by Egyptian and UN officials and that calm had been restored. Later, the Israeli military announced a return to civilian routine along the volatile border.
Channel 10 news reported the ceasefire came after Egypt warned the Palestinian terrorist group that Israel would launch a war “in two hours” if Hamas responded to the retaliatory strikes in Gaza. The report said Egypt threatened to impose sanctions on Hamas if it did not end the cross-border arson attacks.
The ceasefire largely held throughout Saturday, though Israeli tanks twice carried out reprisal strikes at Hamas observation posts inside the Strip. The IDF said the first strike was in response to an attempted infiltration of the border fence in northern Gaza, while the second strike came after a flaming balloon launched from the Strip sparked a fire in nearby Kibbutz Nahal Oz.