Hundreds of mourners attended the funeral Thursday afternoon of Staff Sgt. Omer Tabib, 21, the military’s first casualty in the current round of fighting between Israel and Gaza.
Tabib, who was killed when an anti-tank guided missile was fired at an Israeli military jeep on the Gaza border Monday, was laid to rest in the military cemetery in his hometown of Elyakim, in northern Israel.
Speaking at the funeral, Tabib’s mother Tali said the family should have been celebrating his discharge from the army, set for just weeks from now, rather than mourning his death.
“I refuse to believe that instead of congratulating you on finishing the army, I am looking for words to sum up your life. In my blackest dreams, I didn’t think this day would come,” she said.
Weeping through her eulogy, she described Omer as “a beautiful, pure child with an eternal smile on his face.”
“You will forever be my son,” she said.
The funeral was attended by Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis as well as dozens of Tabib’s friends and comrades.
A member of the Nahal Infantry Brigade’s 931st Battalion currently serving on the northern Gaza border, Tabib’s jeep came under attack Wednesday when parked within Kibuutz Netiv Ha’asara, which lies on a hill overlooking northern Gaza, in an area within direct view of the Strip — and thus vulnerable to attack.
An officer in the jeep was seriously injured and a third soldier in the vehicle was moderately wounded, the military said. A civilian who ran to help pull the three out of the jeep also sustained moderate injuries from shrapnel, medics said.
The three soldiers had been tasked with protecting Netiv Ha’asara, one of the Israeli communities closest to the Gaza border, against the possibility of an infiltration attack from the Strip, IDF spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said.
The Hamas terror group later released graphic video footage of the missile attack, showing the ATGM team aiming at the jeep and then firing a missile at the vehicle, causing a massive explosion.
Immediately after the missile strike, terrorists in the Strip began launching multiple waves of mortar shells at the area in an apparent effort to keep medical personnel away from the scene. Military and civilian medics anyway entered the area, under fire, to remove and treat the three injured soldiers.
Since Monday, the IDF has blocked off roads and closed sites overlooking the Gaza Strip in order to prevent precisely such anti-tank guided missile attacks, in part due to lessons learned from incidents in November 2018 and May 2019, in which a soldier was seriously injured and a civilian man was killed, respectively.
Yet Zilberman said the soldiers had not behaved incorrectly by parking the jeep where they did, that this was a calculated risk necessary because of the topography of the area.
The head of the IDF Southern Command Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano similarly said he did not believe the attack on the jeep was the result of a mistake, but just a factor of the location of Netiv Ha’asara.
“We are in the middle of combat. Combat is a complicated thing. Combat involves conflict, with the enemy and with the territory,” Toledano told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.
Haaretz on Thursday gave a different account, saying the internal probe has indicated that the soldiers were on a road they should not have been on, as it was known it was exposed.
Tabib’s was the second Israeli vehicle to be hit by an anti-tank guided missile since renewed fighting began on Monday evening. Shortly after the violence broke out, an anti-tank missile was fired at an Israeli civilian man’s car on a hill south of the town of Sderot, in an area that had been blocked off earlier in the day, but that the man had somehow gotten to anyway.
The man was lightly injured in the attack, sustained wounds from the blast and shrapnel, medics said.
According to the IDF, some 1,600 rockets and mortar shells have been fired toward Israel by terror groups in the Gaza Strip since fighting broke out on Monday evening. Roughly a fifth of those landed inside the Palestinian enclave, and, in at least one case, killed a number of children when the rocket hit a school.
Hundreds of the incoming projectiles have been intercepted by Iron Dome missile defense batteries, according to the military, which refuses to give precise statistics on the matter as they could be used by terror groups to find ways to outmaneuver the system.
Seven people have been killed in Israel in attacks from the Gaza Strip since Monday, including a 5-year-old boy in Sderot on Wednesday night, and dozens more injured, including a 5-year-old girl in critical condition.
Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said the death toll there rose to 87 Palestinians, including 18 children, Thursday. The IDF said dozens of those killed were members of terrorist groups, some of whom were actively preparing to launch attacks on Israel when they were hit.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven of its members, while Hamas acknowledged that a top commander and several other members were killed. Israel and a Palestinian human rights group, Defense for Children, have said that several of the civilians were killed by Hamas rockets falling short inside Gaza, not by Israeli attacks, though Defense for Children does claim at least some of the children were killed by Israeli strikes.
The Israeli military also claims the number of terrorists killed so far is much higher than Hamas has acknowledged.