Brother of slain soldier held in Gaza: 'Don't risk anyone to retrieve my brother's body'

For three months, Staff Sergeant Shai Levinson's family lived in uncertainty about his fate after he was abducted to Gaza, until they received the heartbreaking news that he had fallen in battle on October 7

Israel Moskowitz|
The community of Givat Avni in the Lower Galilee was devastated by the news of the death of Staff Sergeant Shai Levinson, 19, whose body is currently held in Gaza.
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"We have been living in a state of constant distress for the past three months, we couldn't sleep or eat," his family shared about the challenging days they have experienced since October 7.
3 View gallery
סמ"ר שי לוינסון ז"ל
סמ"ר שי לוינסון ז"ל
Staff Sergeant Shai Levinson
(Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
They also expressed their uncertainty and the profound impact of this loss. "Shai's greatest aspiration was to protect our country, and he made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our homeland. He enlisted with the sole purpose of safeguarding our nation," according to his family.
Shai's parents Shlomit and Kochav were vacationing in Austria when the war erupted. "When we started hearing distressing reports from Israel, I messaged Shai, asking him to signal that he was fine," mother Shlomit recalled.
"But he didn't respond. We knew he was stationed in the Sahaf post between Be'eri and Re'im, and we were tracking his cellphone using GPS, which showed that he was on the move. I reassured myself, thinking: 'He's occupied with his duties, fighting for us and everything should be fine."
The following day, the tracking app showed Shai's phone was still in Be'eri and wasn't moving, raising a feeling that something was amiss. They decided to cut their trip short and fly back to Israel. Upon their arrival, they were informed that Shai was not listed among the deceased, captives or injured, and was listed as missing.
"A few days later, we were notified that his status had changed from missing to abducted. It was an agonizing three months living with the knowledge that our son was abducted, all while not knowing about his medical condition," Shlomit said.
"Every knock on the door or car entering our street would startle us. Planning anything ahead became impossible, as it could easily be disrupted. It felt like living moment to moment for three long months. Even something as basic as eating became challenging. How could I celebrate when I didn't know if my child had enough to eat? There was no motivation to do anything at all."
Shai's brother Ben said that the fallen soldier was a very sociable and modest person. "He was an excellent student and outstanding athlete in every field – basketball, soccer, he loved to run," he said.
"He was the glue of his friend group, humble and volunteered a lot. He wanted to enlist in a combat unit despite his poor vision but it was important to him. He gave up on an athlete status for it. I couldn't ask for a better brother. He was the best person I've ever known. I miss him, and it's not easy. I had the chance to speak with him the day before in a video call."
However, Ben said that despite the great pain he and his family are experiencing in Shai's absence, his brother's body should not be returned if it jeopardizes the safety of others.
"Don't risk anyone to retrieve my brother's body. It is not worth it to me to have a grave to visit if it means that other families will also suffer the loss of their loved ones. I have immense faith in the actions of the army and trust them wholeheartedly," he said.
"As someone who served as a field commander for around 90 days, I understand the challenges faced and stand behind the decisions of the IDF chief of staff, high command and all the soldiers."
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לוינסון (מספר 13) במדי קבוצת הבוגרים
לוינסון (מספר 13) במדי קבוצת הבוגרים
Levinson played for S.C Eilabun
(Photo: S.C Eilabun)
Shai's grandmother Dina Levinson, 77, from the northern town of Zichron Ya'akov, shared about the months of uncertainty she grappled with until the announcement of his death. "He was a 19-year-old boy, what more can we say about him? He was just starting his life, like an unopened blossom. I must say, he possessed exceptional qualities. He played basketball and stood over 6'2". He was a symbol of unity, bringing people together and promoting coexistence," she said.
"It was incredibly tough. We were left in limbo without any information, except on the 13th day of the war when they came and informed us of what they knew. However, since then, there was complete silence. I explained to my children that this is a familiar pattern in such situations. I couldn't see any possibility of a positive outcome, but deep down, there was always a glimmer of hope for a small miracle. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
"Every night before I drifted off to sleep, I would say a few comforting words to him - urging him to stay strong, to persevere, expressing my love and enveloping him with kisses and hugs. However, they were just words.
"Perhaps they provided me solace, but they couldn't help him. The situation is even more devastating for his parents, raising a 19-year-old child, only to have a branch of the family tragically severed. They won't have grandchildren from him, and I won't have great-grandchildren from him. It's truly horrible that this has affected all of us."
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