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Behind the Headlines: Among the Fallen Youth of Israel; Grandchild of a Late Peace Activist

It was the first week of school, and a group of Jerusalem teen-agers had headed to Ben Yehuda Street in search of new supplies.

Minutes later, two of them — Smadar Elhanan and Sivan Zarka, both 14 — lay dead. Their friend Daniella Birman was critically wounded.

Within a heartbreaking 24-hour period, more than a dozen young Israelis had lost their lives in two separate tragedies.

Three teen-agers were among the four Israelis killed by a triple suicide bombing Sept. 4 at the popular Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall. More than 190 others were wounded in the attack.

One of the wounded, Eliahu Markowitz, 40, died Monday from his injuries.

Less than 12 hours after the suicide attack, a failed raid into Lebanon early Friday morning by an elite unit of Navy commandos left 11 members of the unit dead, with a 12th missing and presumed dead.

Behind the headlines, each victim had his or her own story. Here are some of those stories:

Elhanan, like her late grandfather Gen. Motti Peled — a former Knesset member and one of the first Israeli officials ever to meet with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization — was a peace activist.

Indeed, a representative of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat attended Elhanan’s burial this week.

In a graveside eulogy, Anis Kak, the authority’s deputy minister of planning and international cooperation, told mourners, “The hand of terror does not differentiate between peace lover and extremist, Israeli or Palestinian.”

Elhanan, who was buried next to her grandfather, is survived by her parents and three brothers.

Zarka, Elhanan’s classmate at Jerusalem’s Gymnasia Rehavia, was the Israeli- born child of French immigrants.

Zarka’s homeroom teacher described her as “a special girl who loved everyone and took everything in the nicest and most relaxed way. She was an excellent student who got along with everyone.”

Zarka is survived by her parents and a brother.

Yael Botwin, also 14, moved to Israel from Los Angeles with her parents eight years ago. She held dual Israeli and American citizenship. Her father, who suffered from a heart condition, died three-and-a-half years ago.

A student at the Religious School of the Arts, Botwin had hoped to go into the dramatic arts.

Described as “a friend that everyone loved,” Botwin spent a month of her summer vacation volunteering at a residential hospital for chronically ill children and young adults.

She leaves behind her mother and two sisters.

Rami Kozashvili, 20, immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union five years ago after his family’s home was destroyed by an earthquake.

Kozashvili left the army six months early to help support his parents and two siblings. His father is unemployed and his mother works as a cleaner.

At the time of his death, Kozashvili worked in one of the stores on Ben Yehuda Street. He had planned to study computer science.

Among the fallen navy commandos, all but two were in their 20s.

Lt. Col. Yosef Korakin, 32, the commander of the naval commando force, had one dream: to become head of the entire navy.

After finishing his mandatory stint in the Israel Defense Force, Korakin traveled around the world for two years with his childhood sweetheart, Ayelet, whom he later married.

Interviewed after her husband’s death, Ayelet Korakin said that she never wanted Yosef to join an elite combat unit.

“But I told him, if you want to go, really go, I’ll support you 100 percent.”

Korakin leaves a 3-month-old son.

The only Druse officer to die in the ambush, Capt. Dagesh Maher, a 26-year-old physician, reportedly risked his life treating several of his comrades before being killed.

A graduate of the Hebrew University School of Medicine, Maher was honored as an “Outstanding Soldier” during last year’s Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem.

When the medical staff at Nahariya Hospital, in the north of the country, heard about the ambush, they did not know that one of their favorite colleagues was among the fallen.

“It was a tremendous shock,” said a hospital administrator, fighting back tears. “He was a true friend.”

Maher leaves behind his parents and six siblings.

For the mother of another fallen commando, news of his death was not a complete surprise.

Early last Friday morning, the mother of Sgt. Maj. Itamar Ilya, 22, had a premonition that something terrible had happened to her son.

“I woke up suddenly and knew something was wrong with Ilya. Then I looked out the window and saw soldiers approaching the house,” said Edna Ilya. They had come to tell the family that her son was missing in action and presumed dead.

Sitting with some of Itamar’s friends in her home in the Negev town of Arad, Edna Ilya said, “Every time I sit on the balcony staring at the desert view that Itamar loved so much I’ll think of him. That will always be my image of Itamar.”

The other commandos killed last Friday were:

Maj. Yitzhak Ben Tov, 28, Kfar Saba; Capt. Ram Lavinas, 22, Shavei Zion; Capt. Zvi Grossman, 21, Tel Aviv; Sgt. Maj. Raz Tabbi, 22, Rishon le-Zion; Sgt. Maj. Arye Abramson, 22, Yavne’el; Sgt. Maj. Yochanan Hilberg, 22, Netzer Hazani; Staff Sgt. Guy Golan, 21, Kibbutz Hatzor; Staff Sgt. Gal Rodovsky, 20, Herzliya; and Staff Sgt. Yaniv Shamiel, 20, Kiryat Haim.

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