Text size

As the rumors of Major Eliraz Peretz's death began filtering in, his mother Miriam locked all the doors of the house as if trying to stave off the bitter news, family members told Haaretz. Eliraz's older brother Uriel was killed in an operation in Lebanon in 1998; he, too, served in the Golani Brigade.

"He was a mother's boy," Mrs. Peretz said of Eliraz. "He was a loving boy, a boy who had set up a family of his own in Israel."

The Peretz family had lived in Sharm-el-Sheikh (then Ofira) before the eviction of Sinai in the 1980s. "We suffered the pangs of peace when they took us from our homes, but now Eliraz has paid the price of war," said Mrs. Peretz. "There's no mother, here or on the other side, who wants to lose her children."

"I didn't send him to die. But my boys are always in the lead. He's an officer, and an officer must set an example. If he's called to rescue and fight it's clear he must be first. He went so that I and the rest of the people of Israel can live here. Our boys died for everyone."

As a son in a bereaved family, Eliraz needed his parents' permission to serve in a combat unit. When the permission was given, Mrs. Peretz said that Eliraz wrote to his father that "after years under your care, it's time for me to leave.

"You gave my life flavor and color, and you taught me how to walk the path. Now I'm going to build a home in Israel, like you did, father, and I hope my children will be at least as good as your children are. You agreed to sign this permission for me. I have put you and mother to the test."

Eliraz's father died five years ago, from what his relatives said was a broken heart. The family was hoping to hold its Seder night celebration at a hotel in Ariel.

"They already booked places, they were talking so much about it, they wanted this family gathering so much," said one of the relatives mourning Eliraz, Avi Bar Yosef.

Eliraz, 31, who lived in the settlement of Eli, is survived by his wife Shlomit and four children, the youngest of whom is 3 months old. "He would never let the kids play war games," Bar Yosef said. "He would say that one combatant in the family is enough."

Twenty-one-year-old Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky of Rishon Letzion was supposed to be discharged from the Israel Defense Forces in six months and had already begun to plan a trip to India with his older brother, Arik.

"He loved the army and especially loved being in the Golani," Arik recalled. "Two days ago he told me he finally wasn't a rookie soldier anymore, that he was one of the vets and would no longer do any routine jobs like guarding - just operational activities. He wanted to finish his service with operational work," Arik said.

"We spoke a few days after Operation Cast Lead, and he said it had been frightening, but he was ready to go in again to drive the terrorists away."

Just before leaving for what turned out to be his final operation, Sviatkovsky updated his Facebook page with the status line, "Last Saturday in Gaza." Yesterday, his friends flooded the page with messages, turning it into a virtual memorial.