Hundreds of people gathered in Jerusalem on Thursday to bury Sgt. Elhai Teharlev, 20, an Israeli soldier killed earlier in the day in a car-ramming attack in the West Bank.
“You sprayed light and life,” his father, Rabbi Ohad Teharlev said over his grave. “You had a smile that melted hearts. We refuse to believe; we are saying goodbye but not letting you go.”
“It is difficult to comprehend this bitter news, incompressible that you are no longer with us,” said his mother Avital. “Your eyes full of light, your presence made the world a brighter place, happy and good. I thank God that I had the privilege and joy of being your mother.”
The funeral at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery was also attended by several ministers and Knesset members.
Teharlev, from the settlement of Talmon, died of his injuries after being struck by a Palestinian driver in a silver Audi at the Ofra Junction on Route 60, northeast of Ramallah, where he was on duty. Another soldier was wounded in the attack as well.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote Thursday on social media that “in the name of the people of Israel, I send my condolences” to Teharlev’s family.
Netanyahu noted that Teharlev attended the Makor Haim yeshiva in Kfar Etzion in the West Bank and was a friend of the three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered three years ago by a Hamas-affiliated cell operating in the West Bank. The bodies of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach were found some three weeks after they were picked up from a bus stop while hitchhiking home on June 12, 2014 after a day at the yeshiva.
Teharlev was a year above the murdered teens.
“May his memory be a blessing engraved in our hearts forever,” the prime minister said on Facebook.
Earlier, his father told Channel 2 that his son “very much loved the army, he was very happy. The army suited him like a glove: He would come home happy, he loved the physical effort, loved to be with his comrades in Golani, and he loved the people of Israel.”
The West Bank “was his home, he felt very safe,” said his father, who added that in seven weeks, he was to take on another position “but did not worry. He was happy with his lot, an angel.”
Rabbi Teharlev, a well-known figure in modern Orthodox circles and the head of a pre-army midrasha that helps recruit women to the IDF, said he felt something was not right when he first heard of the incident “and nobody would talk to me.”
“When I understood that something was happening this morning, I spoke to a friend and no one was telling me anything, so I knew that something had happened [regarding my son],” he said.
“I called my wife. I understood that my son was involved in a terror attack and nobody would talk to me,” he said adding that he made a few phone calls to army commanders who either said they did not know or did not take the call.
Teharlev said the family had looked into spending the weekend in the settlement of Ofra to be near their son but couldn’t find suitable lodging for the couple and their other six children.
“But we planned to come for Seder night [on Monday] to be with him,” he added.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin mourned the loss of “our dear son,” sending his “deepest condolences to the family” and to the people of Talmon. He also wished a speedy recovery to the injured soldier
The Palestinian driver of the car was captured by the Israel Defense Forces, an army spokesperson said. He was identified by Palestinian media as Malek Ahmad Mousa Hamed, 21, from the nearby town of Silwad.
Hamed had driven back and forth along the road looking for soldiers to target, the officials said.
Hamed served four months in jail for attempting an attack at the settlement of Adam last year, military officials said. They said his attack Thursday was the ninth in the past two years to be carried out by residents of Silwad.
The car struck the soldiers as they stood in an opening between the bollards protecting the bus stop and the concrete barrier protecting the rest of the sidewalk. Hamed accelerated into the soldiers from across the street, to maximize the speed of impact, the officials said.
The vehicle, which had Palestinian license plates, went over the sidewalk and into a crop of trees behind it.
The attack came as Israeli officials warned of a possible increase in violence surrounding the Passover holiday.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Hamas terror group said the incident proved a spate of stabbing and car-rammings that appeared to wane in the past year was ongoing.
“There is no security for the occupation army or the settlers as long as it denies our rights, occupies our land and attacks our people and our holy sites,” Hazem Qasem said in a statement.
On Saturday, three people were injured in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem’s Old City. The attacker, a West Bank Palestinian, was shot and killed after a chase.
Dov Lieber contributed to this report.