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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sgt. Assaf Namer, 27, was laid to rest shortly after 6:00 p.m. Sunday at Haifa's military cemetery. Namer was killed in the battle at Bint Jbail on Wednesday.
Though he was required to serve in the army for six months, Namer volunteered to serve for two years.
Namer's uncle, Motka Nave, who delivered the eulogy, said of his nephew: "His whole family were fighters in the army. He joined the army as a fighter. And so, we lost him in the battle."
Namer's father, Tzahi Namer, missed watching his son grow up so that his ex-wife Eva could raise him in Australia, far away from the violence that plagues life in Israel.
It was a sacrifice made in vain because on Wednesday afternoon Tzahi's worst fears were realized when Assaf was one of eight soldiers killed in the battle at Bint Jbail in southern Lebanon.
"I knew he would be killed," Tzahi told The Jerusalem Post on Friday as he sat in the kitchen of his Kiryat Ata home, chain-smoking and looking at a large photo of himself with Assaf.
The phone call from his sister upon his return from work on Wednesday informing him that Assi was gone came as no surprise to Tzachi, who had anticipated this nightmare for days.
With a voice hoarse from crying, Tzahi recalled how a conversation with Assaf the Thursday prior to his death had already left him in tears. The pair had a joking routine on the phone in which Tzahi would ask, "How are you, boy?" and Assaf would say, "I'm fine, what's with you man?" This time, Tzachi recalled, after a certain amount of stammering Assaf said, "To put it simply, I'm heading to Lebanon."
"When I put the phone down, I cried. My girlfriend asked, 'Why are you crying?' and I said, "Because Assi will be killed," recalled Tzahi. His girlfriend dismissed his fears, but he was certain he was right.
Now, in between warning sirens of impending rocket attacks that send him scurrying into the apartment stairwell for safety, he was waiting for Eva and his daughter Karin, 29, to come from Australia for Sunday's funeral.
Tzahi had hoped to avoid this scenario when Assaf left for Australia following the Gulf War at age 11 with his mother and older sister. While all the members of their family were born in Israel, Eva opted to start a new life there because her brother had moved to Australia.
"I was happy they went there," said Tzahi. "I wanted my children to live in a normal country where the biggest disaster was a fire or a hurricane and where you didn't have to spend three years in the army and risk your life," he said.
The son of a Holocaust survivor from Romania who served in the Israeli army himself, Tzahi said that he felt his family had already paid its dues to the country.
But his son, who loved sports and music, felt otherwise. In an interview with the Triple J radio station in Australia before his departure in 2004, Assaf said that he enlisted even though it meant leaving his records and his mother behind.
In watching the soldiers during a visit to Israel the previous year, Assaf told the radio interviewer, he felt that he had missed out on an important experience.
"It's almost an identity crisis type of thing. I live half of my life in Australia and half of my life in Israel. When I am in Australia I don't quite feel 100 percent Australian and when I am in Israel, I don't feel 100 percent Israeli," he told the radio station at the time.
"It will help build character and at the same time it will help Israel. It's such a normal thing for every Israeli to do, to join the army when they are 18, and the fact that I didn't do it when I was 18 just makes me want to do it more," Assaf said.
Tzahi recalled that the IDF initially dismissed Assaf's enthusiasm and offered to put him in a light half-year program. It was Assaf who insisted on spending two years in a combat unit. Two months ago the army gave him time off to visit his mother in Sydney.
Upon his return to Israel, Assaf was reassigned to an intelligence position and the IDF cut two months off his service, so he was due to be released within a few weeks.
But when fighting broke out along the northern border earlier this month, Assaf successfully begged the army to return him to his combat unit. He did so even though his girlfriend was just coming back to Israel after spending three months abroad.
She landed in Israel on Friday and saw him on Saturday for a few hours, said Tzahi. They were planning to live together after he finished his service.
Tzahi said his son was a gentle person who was easily loved by everyone. As an athlete who enjoyed kickboxing, he was careful to eat only healthy foods. He broke down a bit in the army and agreed to drink coffee, Tzahi said.
In his last conversations with his son on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Tzahi gave him advice on how to stay safe. He told him to keep his head down and to allow himself to be scared because that fear would keep him from taking risks.
"I told him that statistics show that many of the soldiers who die are killed in their first battle. If you hold on for four days you will stay alive," Tzahi recalled.
Then, breaking into tears, he added, "He lasted only three days and then he was killed."