VIDEO - Nine soldiers killed, two battles, countless tears: The last 24 hours were of the worse the IDF had known in recent years. Nine soldiers and officers were killed in the fierce fighting in Bint Jbeil on Wednesday, and 27 have been wounded. The day began with a bitter clash in the town of Bint Jbeil, "Hizbullah's capital," that claimed the lives of eight. The evacuation of the injured went on for hours, during which other bitter news came from the battlefield: A sager missile fired by Hizbullah killed another officer and wounded five soldiers.
The names of the soldiers killed in the first battle are:
- Lieutenant Colonel Roee Klein, 31, from Ali
- Captain Amichai Merhavia, 24, from Ali
- Sergeant Assaf Namer, 27, from Kiryat Yam
- First Lieutenant Alexander Schwartzman, 24, from Akko
- First Sergeant Shimon Adega, 21, from Kiryat Gat
- First Sergeant Shimon Dahan, 20, from Ashdod
- First Sergeant Idan Cohen, 21, from Jaffa
- First Sergeant Ohad Klausner, 20, from Beit Horon
The victim of the second battle:
- First Lieutenant Yiftach Schrier, 21, from Haifa
|Soldiers transported from Lebanon (Video: Avi Cohen, Inna Shender)|
Wanted to improve and progress
Lt. Col. Roee Klein, 31, was born and raised in Ra'anana. The past four years, he lived in the Ali community with his wife, Sarah, and two boys, Gilad, aged 3, and Yoav, aged a year and a half.
Roee is a graduate of the "Bnei David" pre-military academy in Ali. At the time of his death, he served as a deputy battalion commander in the Golani 51st infantry battalion. In his community, friends told of how his most prominent characteristics were his gentleness, his peacefulness, and his ever-present smile. "He excelled at everything he did, graduated with an honors degree in engineering from the college in Ariel, and was blessed with many talents," they said.
Those who knew him mention his quest for self-awareness, improvement and personal progress. "Anyone who looked at Roee saw before him a tender and quiet guy, but when he entered the fight, he demonstrated an outburst of strength and decisiveness that could not be withstood. His great love for his country and people is what drove him to invest so much of himself in his military service and, in the end, to sacrifice his life to protect them," added other friends.
Shulik Leshem, from Mitzpeh Iron, knew Roee well. "I studied will him from about the age of 15, we later served together and traveled together in Africa." Leshem tells: "He was a spectacular man, a go-getter with a great sense of humor, there's no one who doesn't remember his rolling laugh. Roee was a serious guy: he undertook everything seriously and that's the way he was since childhood. Leshem provides an example from Roee's youth: "During his studies, he would wake up at five in the morning, in order to have time to study Gemara before prayer, which is something that regular people do not do."
Leshem explained that Roee served three years of compulsory service and then remained in the army as a career officer. Eventually, he left the army and pondered whether to rejoin the army or go into academia. "He really debated over this. This was a moral and idealistic guy and, moreover, his family was important to him. He thought how he could best contribute to Israel and how to manifest himself in ways that would help those less fortunate. He was very intelligent; he wanted to learn in the university and his family background gave him a leaning towards academia. But he didn't get the chance. He decided to return to the army because that's what he loved and that's what he wanted to do."
Leshem added, "At every point in his army career, he gave everything he had, he was hardly at how. In my opinion, he didn't get a chance to see his kids much. We spoke of how we needed to meet, renew our friendship, remember days gone by. From speaking to people here, I understand that everyone loved him. He was striking, with his gravity, his charisma and his quiet nature. He was someone with a quiet presence."
An exemplary leader and man
Capt. Amichai Merhavia, 24, was born in Talmey Yosef, on the Rafah seafront. When he was a year old, he and his parents moved to Ali. He completed his high school studies in the youth yeshiva near "Mercaz HaRav" in Jerusalem. Afterwards, he studied in another yeshiva until he was drafted to the Golani infantry division.
"Amichai was head and shoulders above the crowd. One glance at his walk and manner of speaking was enough for anyone to recognize his leadership skills. His ever-present smile, good hear, and love for his friends and students made Amichai truly special," said Ali residents.
Amichai leave behind his parents, Moshe and Tovah, and eight siblings.
Meant for a desk-job but drafted to combat
Shimon Adega, 21, from Kiryat Gat, arrived with his parents from Ethiopia 16 years ago. His last phone call with his family was Saturday night. His brother David tells: "Saturday evening he told us that they were going to Lebanon, and that he couldn't give us details. He was drafted in March of 2004 and the IDF wanted to give him a desk job but he fought to be drafted to a combat unit. He was given a month of leave and, afterwards, was drafted to the Golani division."
Shimon's family has seven children, five boys and two girls; Shimon was the sixth among them. Many people, some of them also Ethiopian, came to console his family at their home.
Psyched about the army
Dozens of friends and family members arrived at the home of Shimon Dahan, 20, from Ashdod. Shimon served in the Golani division. His friends told that "he was a special person, who loved to help and never complained about difficulties. Shimon was psyched about the army. He thought of signing on more when his three years were up. He loved army service and stood out during the squad commander course and the sergeant's course."
Shimon's older brother serves in the Golani reserves. He received the tragic news of his brother's death after being told to return urgently to his home from the northern border.
The family is strongly-rooted and well-known in Ashdod. Many people came to comfort the family, including the city's security officer, Arieh Itah, whose son was the last soldier to fall in Lebanon prior to the IDF's withdrawal in 2000. Kfir, Shimon's cousin, talked of how much he loved the army. "A few months ago, Shimon got sick and had to stay home. The whole time, he stubbornly insisted on returning to the unit. In the end, he returned and made up the stuff that he'd missed. He loved to help people. When he came home one leave, he would volunteer in a charity organization and distribute food to the needy."
Relatives told of how Shimon had previously served in Gaza. There, too, they were very worried about him. "He was in combat in Beit Hanoun. Terrorists fired an RPG at him and, by some miracle, he got out alive. We worried about him a lot and we were glad when he stopped serving there. Sadly, he was killed in the north." Shimon leaves behind him his parents – Yacov, a fifth grade teacher in Ashdod, and Yaffa, a postal worker - and four brothers.
His parents worried and sent messages
For four days, family members of Idan Cohen, 21, from Jaffa, to contact him, with no success. In the evening, when they saw the local IDF representative, they understood what had happened.
Hundreds of friends, neighbors and family arrived at the home of the soldier, who was supposed to be released in two months time. One of the neighbors said that "Idan was a modest boy, who wanted to join Golani. His parents worried about him a lot and left him a lot of messages, but didn't manage to speak to him." Another neighbor added "he was the sweetest boy you ever met, a good boy who was about to finish his service and had his whole life ahead of him."
Idan's friend, Eran Agison, told of their last conversation. "A second before he entered Lebanon he said to me 'We're going in. What'll I tell me mom? I'll tell her that it's an exercise.' I asked him if he was scared and he answered that there isn't anyone who isn't afraid, but that he has to do it."
Idan leaves behind him parents Gretzia and Itzik, and sisters Mor, 18, and Sappir, 13.
'Came from Australia to enlist'
Sergeant Assaf Namer, 27, an Israeli youngster with an Australian citizenship, had left Israel with his mother and sister when he was 10 year-old and returned to Israel two and-a-half years ago in order to enlist in the army and serve in the Golani division.
Assaf was due to be discharged a month from now, and was planning to settle down in Israel with his girlfriend, Revital, who lives in Tel Aviv. He used to spend his vacations with Revital and at the house of his grandmother, who lives in Kiryat Yam. Wednesday night army representatives arrived at the grandmother's house to deliver the terrible news.
Assaf's grandmother had informed his father of his son's death, and his mother and sister are currently making their way to Israel. The father, Tzachi, told visitors who arrived at the house that before Assaf's departure to Lebanon two weeks ago, they met for dinner.
Kiryat Atta's mayor, Yaakov Peretz, visited the father on Wednesday night to offer his condolences. Peretz said that Assaf, who did not have to join the army, made it a pint to come to Israel in order to live her and serve. "Although his life was in Australia, he was a Zionist who chose to come to Israel in order to do his part," he stated.
A date for Assaf's funeral will be set once his mother and sister arrive in the country.
'Pride of the family'
Burla Street in Akko was deserted Wednesday night. Some of the residents sat in shelters while others had left the city because of the rockets that fell in the area last week. Only one apartment building separates the house of IDF soldier Gadi Musayeb, who was killed at the start of the fighting in Lebanon and the house of First Lieutenant Alexander Schwartzman (24), company commander in the 51st battalion of Golani, who was killed in battle. Schwartzman moved to Israel with his family at the beginning of the '90s from Ukraine.
Two and a half weeks ago Alexander left his house for the last time, leaving behind his grandmother, Clara, and his mother, Rima, and in the next-door apartment, his sister, Diana, with her husband and two children. "He was the pride of the family," told his neighbor, Larissa Shabtaib. "He was a quiet boy who liked to go to the gym. He always smiled and said 'hello' to anyone he passed on the street."
Alexander's friend, Alex Glutzky, said, "We learned together from elementary school through to the air force technical school. This September I am getting married and Alex was supposed to drive me to the wedding. I still am not processing what happened and don't understand how within one moment I lost my best friend."
After studying in the air force technical school, Alexander went to pilots course, which he didn't finish, and was forced to get reassigned. "He didn't want to have a desk job in the army, and so he chose to go to a combat unit. He preferred Golani. When we met up a month ago I told him to take care of himself. Since then, I have seen him. During our phone conversations he told me how much he misses all his friends."
Alex's house was empty Wednesday since his family moved to the center of the city to avoid the rockets. The only one who remained was his sister, Diana, who works in the surgery department of Carmel Hospital in Haifa. That is where the army found her and told her of her brother's death. From there she made her way to her family in the center of the country to tell the rest of the family about Alex's death.
"When I heard about the disaster, the first thing I did was call Rambam Hospital, but his name didn't show up on the hospital records. A few minutes later, Alex's girlfriend, Sabina, called me and told me Alex is dead," said Glutzky.
"They are a quiet family who always loves helping people. Alex was a role model for all the neighborhood kids as an ambitious young person, who from the streets of Akko got to a commanding position in Golani. It is hard for us to think about the difficult days the family and their friends are going to go through," said one of the neighbors.
'Worried all day'
Throughout the whole day the family of First Sergeant Ohad Klausner, from the settlement of Beit Horon, tried to understand if their son was among the wounded in the battle on Bint Jbeil. The reports from Lebanon left them no rest. "The whole day we tried to call and the told us that there's nothing," said the uncle, Yossi Klausner. "When we called the hospital they told us that it was the 51st battalion of Golani, and the worrying only increased." Only some long hours after the incident did the Klausner family get the bitter news.
"He was only 21 and a half," said his mother, Orit, yesterday. "Every time I see bereaved parents speaking on television about how wonderful their children were. They are all wonderful and great. It really is true."
Ohad's family saw him for the last time two weeks ago, when he went on break. "On Sunday he called to tell us he is going into Lebanon and that he won't be by his phone. They told them not to take them in," his mother tells, "Already yesterday at night I sensed that something bad is happening."
After finishing his studies at in Jerusalem, Ohad chose the combat track. A year and four months ago he enlisted. He was the youngest of three sons, one of the founding families of the settlement Beit Horon.
'Handsomest twins in Haifa'
Yiftach Schrier's parents – Yaffa, a retired teacher, and Ami, who is self-employed – had a hard time accepting the bitter news of their son's death. Yiftach, 22, a paratrooper, was killed on Wednesday in battle near the village of Maroun al-Ras in Lebanon.
"He was a sensitive child," his mother said, and his father added: "He kept telling me – 'don't worry dad, it'll be fine."
Yiftach was born and raised in Haifa, went to the Hugim school and was a coordinator at the local Scouts branch. "They were the most handsome twins in Haifa. Everybody knew them, our youngest sons. I don't know what Yarden will do now, without Yiftach," Yaffa said about her two sons.
Yiftach's parents said that "he loved the army, took care of his troops like a father. When a soldier was sick, Yiftach would phone him to see how he was. When we dropped him off at the base, one of the soldiers' parents approached us and said: 'We never saw anyone like your son before'."
Yiftach's twin brother Yarden serves in the IDF as a first lieutenant. Yiftach is survived by his parents, a twin brother, and two older siblings, Yariv (38) and Yonat (32).
Ahiya Raved, Shmulik Hadad, Vered Luvitch, Hagai Einav, Tova Dadon, Amir Ben-David and Yedioth Ahronoth contributed to the story