At Funeral of Israeli Sergeant Killed at Gaza Border, Friends and Family Remember a Young Leader

As one friend described Aviv Levi, ‘The last time we spoke he said: ‘I’m not afraid. I’m only afraid for my soldiers when they’re asleep’

Friends of fallen soldier Aviv Levi outside a Petah Tikva school that he attended, July 21, 2018.
Ofer Vaknin

Hundreds of people attended the funeral Sunday of Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, who was killed Friday at the Gaza border fence – a place he had volunteered to be as fighting with Hamas escalated over the weekend.

Levi, 20, a soldier in the Givati infantry brigade, was shot by a Hamas sniper near the fence. He was wearing body armor, and the army is investigating why this did not protect him.

Petah Tikva Mayor Itzik Braverman said at the funeral at the city’s Segula Cemetery that it was clear that Levi was a leader.

“Yesterday when I went to the school that Aviv attended, from his shocked friends I could hear how much Aviv was loved – a leader, a paragon, a friend to everyone,” Braverman said.

“Together with the others, he had woven a dream for after his upcoming release, and for the more distant future. I heard from his commanders about his determination and leadership abilities.”

According to Braverman, Levi’s commander said Levi did not have to go out to the fence, but asked to do so. “He was the best,” Braverman quoted the commander.

Levi’s parents were abroad when they received word of his death. He is survived by three brothers, one them also serving in a combat unit.

Soldier Aviv Levy being evacuated after he was hit by sniper fire on the Gaza border, July 20, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Levi’s former schoolmates, from the Golda Meir School in Petah Tikva, gathered Saturday to commemorate him.

“We were in the same class. He went through everything with me,” his friend Idan Ziv told Haaretz. “He always knew how to say the right thing and pick you up when you were down.”

Dudu, another friend, said: “He always tried to act as if everything was okay in Gaza, and to smile. But I was there and know that not everything’s rosy.”

Levi’s friends had spoken to him only a few hours before he was killed. His friend Suf told Haaretz that they had planned to go see him Saturday to celebrate his birthday next week.

“The last time we spoke he said: ‘I’m not afraid. I’m only afraid for my soldiers when they’re asleep.’ This guy defies description,” Suf said.

“He was a leader in the army and at home. He had a corner in his heart for everyone. He would make video calls from the fence. He acted like it was child’s play, as if it wasn’t dangerous there.”

Levi’s girlfriend, Shahar Erez, posted on her Instagram account: “We had a million plans and we were counting the days until we met again. In two more weeks was your birthday, and while I was planning you the perfect day, everything blew up. I refuse to believe it’s real.”

Noam Levi, Aviv’s uncle, told Haaretz: “Aviv was the eldest grandchild in the family. The whole family admired him. He did things thoroughly and quietly, he achieved a lot in his short life. He very much wanted to serve in Givati. He was introverted and shy, but he was serious and conscientious.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: “Together with his comrades, Aviv fought with determination and heroism against terror from the Gaza Strip. To our sorrow, this struggle sometimes claims a price that is heavy for us to bear. Our hearts are with the family.”

President Reuven Rivlin added: “The loss is unimaginable. We send a comforting embrace to his family and those who loved him at this difficult time. Together will all Israel, we feel your pain.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “Aviv Levi fell in defense of the people, the country and the inhabitants of the Gaza border region.”