When a mortar shell fell outside Adele Raemer’s home on Tuesday morning, sending fragments flying through her bedroom with its purple wall, Zeevik Etzion was the first person to arrive at her door to make sure she was not hurt.
“He ran from place to place after the attack to check on people,” Raemer recalled on Wednesday afternoon, as she described the tall, gray-haired man with a perpetual smile on his face.
As chief security officer for Nirim, a kibbutz in the Eshkol region along the Gaza border, Etzion had spent the summer, along with the former chief security officer, Shahar Melamed, safeguarding those in the 430-member community who had remained during Operation Protective Edge.
Nirim was so heavily hit, that for the first time on Tuesday ordinary residents were walking around with flak jackets, said Raemer.
That morning’s barrage took out the kibbutz’s electricity.
It was only in the late afternoon that an electricity crew arrived to fix the broken wires.
Etzion and Melamed, along with other security officers, stood by the utility pole to help out.
It was 6 p.m., just one hour away from the start of the cease-fire, when a mortar struck by the utility pole, just a short distance away from Melamed’s home.
There is only 10 seconds in Nirim between when the warning siren sounds and a mortar shell hits. So there not enough time, in this instance, to run for safety.
Etzion, 55, a father of five children, was killed instantly.
Melamed, 43, a father of three, an expert car mechanic who ran the kibbutz’s garage, was severely wounded.
Melamed was flown to Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba by helicopter and rushed into surgery, dying later that night. Two other Nirim security officers were wounded in the attack, one seriously and the other moderately. The three members of the electricity crew were lightly wounded.
On Wednesday, as the day’s heat wound down, friends carried Melamed’s coffin into a small cemetery shaded by trees and located just outside the kibbutz.
His wife, Einat, and their three small children sat on the grayish-brown ground by his freshly filled grave, and cried throughout the funeral.
Occasionally his children called out, “Abba [“Daddy”]” and the word “no.”
Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Yellin said, “If I had to guess who people would be who were there under fire trying to fix the electricity, it would be Zeevik and Shahar.”
Friends described a dependable, enjoyable man who loved his family, his kibbutz and his country. He had a knack for fixing things, particularly cars and pretty much anything that moved.
Kibbutz member Oded Rubinstein said he had been good friends with both men.
“They were both keen to help. They had good hearts and hands and a lot of technical capability,” Rubinstein told The Jerusalem Post. “We always saw them in the right places. They were always there when we needed all hands on deck. They were good fathers and close to their families.
“What happened yesterday describes them the best. They were there because they were needed. They felt that they had to be where they can be useful.
“It was fitting tag this is what they were doing in their last moments,” Rubinstein said.
Etzion, had an expertise in work that involved heights, such as the utility pole, he said. He had been a volunteer with Magen David Adom for over 30 years, Rubinstein said.
“The kibbutz is a very intimate community. We all know each other very well.
It is a big shock and for us,” Rubinstein said.
Raemer, originally from New York, said she had known Etzion since she arrived at the kibbutz close to 40 years ago.
She was among those in the kibbutz who stayed during Operation Protective Edge, so they had weathered the war together.
One felt secure both with Etzion and Melamed, Raemer said.
Of Melamed, she said, “You wouldn’t buy a car without Shahar.”
Etzion, she described as a “well loved, sweet guy, who just cared.”
On her phone she has a picture of him holding up a tail of a rocket that had hit the kibbutz during the war.
“I can’t believe he is gone. He has five kids,” she said adding that the youngest is heading into seventh grade in September.
“I felt safer just knowing he was around,” she said.
“My daughter said, ‘who will watch over us now,’” said Raemer.
She had left the kibbutz on Tuesday after the attack to head to Tel Aviv to participate in a Labor conference. While she was on the panel, her phone started blinking with dozens of calls, so she knew something had gone wrong.
Raemer returned home in tears just hours before the funeral. As she stood outside her door, she bumped into her neighbor Nimron Hazan, He showed her how a pellet from that same mortar that had damaged her home, had entered his from a back wall, creating a small hole in the stucco. It then flew in a line, straight through and out the front wall.
One woman, who passed by, said that until Tuesday, her concern had been what was damaged.
“Now that no longer seems important,” she said.