When the members of the 53rd Battalion’s adjutant company in the 188th Armored Brigade returned to their staging area near Kibbutz Kissufim after fighting in the Gaza Strip on July 31, they were hit by a mortar barrage. This was two weeks into the ground incursion of Operation Protective Edge, and after the soldiers had finished their assignment in the Strip.
Five members of the company were killed in the attack: Capt. Omri Tal, the 22-year-old platoon commander from Yehud; Capt. (res.) Liran Adir, 31, from Netanya; Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Marsh, 22, of Rishon Letzion; Staff Sgt. Shai Kushnir, 20, from Kiryat Motzkin; and Staff Sgt. Noam Rosenthal, 20, from Meitar.
On the morning of the attack, the company had been sent one more time into the Strip. When they returned to Israel in the evening in their armored personnel carriers, the mortars rained down.
Sariel Tepper, a member of the company who was injured in the attack and received a commendation for his actions during the mortar strike, did not join the force in Gaza because he was ill. When the APCs returned, he said he asked the platoon commander: “So how did you get along in there without me?” Tal gave his ever-ready smile, Tepper said, “and I say hi to the guys, and then there was a blast. The last thing I remember is getting up and yelling for everyone to get in the APCs and I see that most of the guys near me aren’t responding.”
The army says that after the mortar strike, Tepper, injured and under fire, went to care for a soldier who was bleeding profusely from a neck wound, ultimately saving his life.
Speaking at a meeting in Kissufim on Friday between the families of the soldiers killed in the mortar strike and some of their comrades who survived it, Esti Tal, Omri’s mother, said at least her son died in his homeland.
“All the boys went on the operation knowing full well that this could happen,” she said. “Young people who go, they give 100 percent. ... They were given the privilege of falling in Israel and not in Gaza. They fell on the land they loved so much.”
The families of the five have formed a connection. They decided to come to the place at Kissufim where the mortar killed their sons, and there they heard from the battalion commander about the incident. Rosenthal’s mother, Osnat, said she went because of her desire “to be in the place where he drew his last breath; it was not next to me.”
Raheli Adir, Liran’s mother, said her son, who was an officer in the Second Lebanon War and took part in all the operations in recent years in Gaza, “never told me about the danger,” and that kept her from worrying. “When he went into the army I slept with the radio on and I was tense all the time. I’m tense to this day. Since the knock on the door I sleep in the living room, near the door, in a kind of readiness. I can’t explain it.”
Liran had gotten married a month before he got called up and could have postponed his reserve duty. But he said he felt obligated to his friends. “The sentence he said [before he left] was, ‘Mom, if I die I want to die a hero.’ At that moment I didn’t even understand what he was saying,” his mother said. Since that time, she adds: “We are breathing, but we are not living.”
Daniel Marsh’s parents said that when he got out of the army, three months before the Gaza War, they thought they could breathe easy since he had completed his three years of service.
While he was doing his reserve duty the family moved house and were trying to design a room that would be his music room, stocked with all the instruments he loved. After he died, she had his name tattooed on her arm next to the image of a harp, a tattoo Daniel had planned for himself before he went to reserve duty.
Like Shai Kushnir, his father Michael had served in the Armored Corps 53rd Battalion. Before Shai went into the Gaza Strip, Michael talked to his son about his fears. “I told him, ‘Shaikeh, you’re my only child, do me a favor, just take care of yourself.’ I told him: ‘Listen, if you do what they taught you, nothing will happen, you’ll get out alive.’ And they got out — twice. The mortar fell after they were out.”
Like Marsh, Kushnir and Noam Rosenthal loved music. While Shai played guitar, Noam played piano.
“Since the day Noam was killed I go to all the mothers’ meetings, just to hear about the kids and know that my son is in company he enjoys,” said his mother, Osnat. “And I hear that they are all pleasant, and happy and loved music, they had values, they made people laugh. They were all the same type.”
The families want to make sure the wounded are not forgotten. Michael Kushnir, for example, wonders why Tepper had to hire a lawyer to receive his rights following his injury. “Why? He doesn’t deserve this,” Kushnir said.
The families say they don’t want to criticize the army over the incident, which was the second such incident in which soldiers were killed by mortar fire in a staging area on the Gaza border. “That’s the nature of war, there are successes and there are mistakes,” said Esti Tal.
“Our kids fell, they’re already gone, and I hope they are not suffering and are in a good place,” said Osnat Rosenthal. But she worries about the injured. “The thought that they will continue to see the sights they saw there is very hard for me. I just hope everyone gets the right care and they manage to build a life with light, and not just the darkness they saw there.”
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