Fallen soldiers' families speak
Twelve hours before death Capt. Netanel sent his wife text message saying 'everything's alright'. Maj. Vertman started school, but returned to Golani for Gaza op. Cpl. Muadi's parents had bad feeling about op. Staff Sergeant Stern spoke with parents before mission, saying he couldn't talk with them for a few days
Maj. Dagan Vertman from Ma'aleh Michmash started his studies the Har Hamor Yeshiva in Jerusalem shortly after completing his duties as company commander in the Golani Brigade. The father of Cpl. Yousef Muadi from Haifa said that before leaving to Gaza, his son told him, "Dad, you will be proud of me."
On Monday night, the two were killed together with Staff Sergeant Nitai Stern from Jerusalem when a tank fired a shell at the building they were in on the outskirts of the Jabaliya refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
In another incident 27-year-old Brigade officer Capt. Jonathan Netanel of Kedumim, the father of a three-month-old baby girl was killed early Tuesday morning.
Jonathan, who was a deputy company commander of the 202nd Paratroopers Brigade, married his wife Tziona about one year ago. Three months ago their daughter Maayan was born. Jonathan's commanders predicted a bright future for him in the IDF.
Jonathan's wife, Ziona said, "On Thursday I met him in the Negev and asked Yoni if this would be our last meeting. He was dancing, happy. I told him to be serious. He said it will be alright. I asked him if he was afraid, he said "Nothing's going to happen to me"… He is my crown, he left me Maayan."
Some 12-hours before he was killed Jonathan sent his wife a text message saying, "Everything's alright, you have nothing to worry about."
Jonathan's father, Rabbi Amos Netanel said, "He died for Kiddush Hashem (the sanctification of God's name). Keep doing what you have to do, proceed with courage and might. He had integrity and morality wherever he went. Militarily, he was an outstanding officer, he was infused with a deep faith in God and the righteous path."
The father added that "Yoni was raised on religious nationalistic Zionism, this is what grew inside him. He was educated at a Yeshiva for the youth. He was deeply infused with a strong faith. He wanted to be recruited for the best, he wanted to go to Sayeret Maglan (unit 212). He graduated successfully, received honors in the brigade, took an officers' course and wanted to reach the brigades where he said the combat was real. His soldiers admired him. About two years ago he received honors in the division."
The father spoke of the bitter moment in which he received word of his son's death. "Last night I went to sleep with the feeling that this could happen. Just before 5 am officers arrived at the house, I was up and studying at the time."
Jonathan will be laid to rest at 7 pm at the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem. He leaves behind his parents, wife, three-month-old daughter and three brothers.
Maj. Dagan Vertman, 32, of Ma'aleh Michmash
Some three months ago, 32-year-old Dagan Vertman completed his position as the Golani Division's 13th company commander and began his studies. The first few months went as expected, and Vertman excelled in his studies. When Operation Cast Lead was launched about a week-and-a-half ago, Dagan returned to the brigade and told the company commander, "If you're going in then I'm going in with you."
Boaz Erzi, a neighbor and close friend to Dagan said his reputation preceded him. "He went to the army out of great faith, and everything he did, he did all the way. He was admired in the brigade, and was exceptionally devoted to every mission."
Vertman's family is still unable to comprehend the difficult reality. "The officer arrived at their house at 5 am," family friend Asher Hirschberg said. "Two of the brothers were in the army when they heard of the tragedy, one in regular service and the other was recruited for reserves.
"They are still in preliminary shock, but know that the greatest pain is yet to come, when life turns upside down. Only after the shiva will they realize the magnitude of their loss."
Hirschberg said the family listened attentively to the officer informing them of their son's death, "but they had no anger. Not at all. They believed in this operation. They inquired on the details of the incident but understood the fighting conditions in the area, and that during massive combat sometimes tragedies occur.
"This family is the salt of the earth. The father served for years in reserves as a medical assistant and the mother is a social worker, who during her duties has comforted a number of bereaved families. Who would have though that today she would cross over and turn into one of those herself?"
Vertman's funeral procession will leave the Har Hamor Yeshiva at 2 pm and end at 3:30 at Mount Herzl where he will be laid to rest. Vertman leaves behind him his parents, three brothers and a sister.
Cpl. Yousef Moadi, 19, from Haifa
Samir Moadi said that he spoke with his 19-year-old son for the last time on Saturday afternoon, shortly after he entered Gaza with his comrades. "He told me quietly, 'Dad, we are getting on buses, you will be proud of me', and we really are very proud of him," the father said.
Samir added that despite the pain of losing their son to an Israeli shell, "We believe in fate and this must be his fate."
Monday night an officer arrived at the Moadi family's house in Haifa to deliver the bad news of their son's death. Shortly afterward the family set off to Yarka in the western Galilee where their extended family resides. Tuesday morning hundreds of friends and family arrived to give their condolences.
The father Samir who works in the Ministry of Agriculture and the mother Wafaa, a teacher, have lived in Haifa for the past few years where they worked and raised their children.
Yousef's cousin Nadim said the soldier had a promising future ahead of him in the army. "He consulted with me before recruitment whether to go to Golani or another unit, and I recommended he go for Golani," the cousin said.
"He was a good guy, a good soul, and a very serious and brilliant person. I was sure he was going to go very far, not just as common soldier, but beyond."
Family members said that since the fighting broke out in Gaza Yousef has been on his parents' minds. "Yesterday the two of them had a bad feeling," Nadim said. "Both the mother and father were very worried. She had a bad feeling in her gut. A very bad feeling, and she told Samir she was very worried about her son's fate.
"Then we heard rumors of fatalities, and my brother called his unit to find out what happened, and if something happened to Yousef. They avoided him, they were afraid to tell him the truth."
The Moadis are a well respected family among the Druze community, and the father Samir's cousin, Sheikh Jaber Muadi served in the past as a Knesset member and minister.
Yosef will be laid to rest at 3 pm in Yarka, and leaves behind his parents, a brother, a sister and grandparents.
Staff Sergeant Nitai Stern, 21, from Jerusalem
Nitani Stern last spoke with his parents on Saturday night. During their conversation he told them he loved them and would not be able to talk with them for a few days.
Nitai's father Reuben said, "He was my boy, this is a very difficult time, all of Israel is grieving, and we are in particular." Stern's grandmother said, "A few weeks ago he came to my new apartment and told me, 'What a beautiful home you have.' He was a charming, non conceited, exemplary boy who was respectful with everyone."
Nitai's cousin Elior told Ynet, "Nitai was a sweet boy, who was full of good and light, smiles and joy, with a crazy zest for life and dreams. He insisted on recruiting to Golani, even though he was supposed to go to engineering.
"Nitai was a warrior for the people of Israel, a hero and a martyr. We are so proud of him. We know he was fighting the war of this people."
Nitai, whose brother also participated in the Gaza operation, studied at the Beni Hayl Yeshiva in Jerusalem. Nitai will be laid to rest at 7:30 at the Mount Herzl military cemetery. Nitai leaves behind him two brothers and two sisters.
Efrat Weiss, Ahiya Raved and Daniel Edelson contributed to this report