Just as Israel Independence Day is celebrated in the shadow of Remembrance Day
for the Fallen and the Victims of Terrorism, tragedy hovered over the young
lives of several of the 120 outstanding soldiers who at the residence of the
President of the State on Thursday received citations and scholarships at the
Independence Day ceremony that each year pays tribute to the nation's army, air
force and navy.
Two of the soldiers Hagar Zohar and Shai Krichli, who were
injured last week when the rigging put up for Remembrance Day and Independence
Day ceremonies at Mount Herzl collapsed, killing Lt. Hila Bezaleli and causing
light to severe injuries to several other soldiers, were unable to attend
because they are still hospitalized.
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz
paid tribute to Bezaleli and wished Zohar and Krichli a speedy recovery. He and
President Shimon Peres who visited the soldiers in hospital, will give them
their citations and scholarship certificates annually awarded by The Association
for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers through the generosity of the Blavatnik
Family Scholarship Foundation. The 120 scholarships valued at NIS4,000 each, are
donated through the UK Friends of AWIS.
The death of Bezalali and the
injuries of Zohar and Krichli were not the only shadows hanging over the
Zohar, though born and raised in Gedera, moved to New York with
her family, when she was 15, but returned to do her army service.
the other soldiers singled out as being outstanding was Chaya Schijveschuurder,
one of eight siblings, of whom three were murdered together with their parents
Mordechai and Tirza Schijveschuurder, in the terrorist attack on the Sbarro
pizza parlor in Jerusalem on August 9, 2001. The family had migrated to Israel
from Holland and had settled in Neria in the North Talmon area of the West Bank.
The other members of the Schijveschuurder family who did not survive the attack
were Ra'aya 14, Avraham Yitzhak 4 and Hemda 2. Chaya who was 8 at the time was
gravely injured. All in all there were 15 fatalities plus the homicide/suicide
bomber. The Schijveschuurder orphans more or less brought themselves up with
minimal assistance from welfare authorities. The oldest siblings took charge and
raised the younger siblings and the family suffered unduly at the hands of
Israel's bureaucracy. Yet for all that, their loyalty to the country remained
undiminished, and Chaya, after recovering from her injuries cherished a dream to
serve in the IDF – which she has done with distinction.
soldier who has distinguished herself and who also came to media attention
before being chosen as an outstanding soldier is IDF medic Anastasia Bagdelov,
who is also a Magen David Adom volunteer. In August 2011, terrorists opened fire
on a bus traveling to Eilat. Most of the passengers were soldiers, and several
were injured. Bagdelov treated them while waiting for help.
who comes from a Nahal family, is the youngest of four brothers who served in
Nahal as did their father before them. His father died two months before Nitai
was due to begin his stint in the IDF and he was offered a deferral, which he
opted not to take.
Ron Broier 20, lost his brother Dan in the Second
Lebanon War. When Ron was told that he had been selected as an outstanding
soldier, his response was that no matter what he does in the army, he's always
thinking of what his brother Dan would say or do. His big hope was that Dan was
looking down on him and that he was proud of him.
Ori Gal from Kibbutz
Beit Hashita, has lived with the fear of death for six years. That's how long
his mother has been treated for cancer. During his year of voluntary national
service, his father was also diagnosed with cancer and died ten months later.
His mother is still in treatment.
Zigato Dago Balai who serves with the
paratroops, has six sisters. He also had two brothers, one of whom died from
natural causes at age 10, and another who died at age 18. Thus when the time
came for Zigato to join the army, his parents were fiercely opposed to him
joining a combat unit. But he insisted, and as a result became an outstanding
soldier. His parents are still unhappy about his choice but are very proud of
The 120 soldiers, including 43 females, represent a broad
swathe of the Israeli demographic mosaic. They come from cities, towns,
villages, kibbutzim and moshavim. Not all are Jewish. Some have a Jewish father,
but not a Jewish mother. There are two Christian Arabs, and a Christian with a
Filipino mother and an Argentine father. There are also Beduin and immigrants
from South Africa, Australia, Mexico, USA, Belgium, France, Ukraine, Russia,
Ethiopia, Georgia, Azerbijan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Singapore and Germany. Yael
Boneh, from Zichron Yaakov, is the daughter of Israelis who immigrated to
Australia. Both her parents served in the IDF and she grew up with the idea that
she would one day come to Israel to do the same. She believes that Jews from all
over the world should come to Israel to do some form of national service for at
least a year and preferably longer.
There were also several haredi
(ultra-Orthodox) soldiers amongst the 120 outstanding soldiers including David Shuraki from
Ashdod who is one of eight siblings and whose father is an engineer with Israel
Aircraft Industries; Benzi Glickerman, who is one of nine siblings including an
identical twin who serves in a paratroop reserve unit;and Shneur Muzikant, who
lives in Jerusalem, but was raised in Kfar Chabad. At age 25, he is the oldest
of the 120 soldiers and studied at various yeshivot in Israel and the United
States before joining the IDF. He is married with a baby son.
that there were tank driver Idan Reuveni who served in the same unit as Gilad
Schalit; and Tomer Efron the son of pop singer Si Heiman and grandson of
composer Nahum Heiman. Most of Efron's friends refused to join the IDF, but his
priorities were different.
Not all the 120 outstanding soldiers showed
leadership ability or were great achievers from early childhood onwards. Yaacov
Hai Weizman was a juvenile delinquent, who went through seven schools before
completing high school. He was known for violence and incitement and had even
stabbed someone. The police had opened several files on him.
this the IDF refused to accept him but Weizman had his heart set on becoming a
combat soldier, and kept showing up at the recruitment office for two and a half
years before the IDF finally relented and allowed him to embark on a preparatory
course in which he excelled. This was basically the turning point in his life.
Out of 62 soldiers who applied at the time for combat service, he was one of 12
who were accepted and the only one from his battalion. He continued to excel and
is now keen to sign up for the permanent army.
Natalie Levy of Jerusalem
was born with CP, Avraham Apelcar of Haifa got CP as the result of an accident
which caused lack of oxygen to the brain and Aviad Ben David from Kiryat Akron
suffered a severe head injury when he was involved in a traffic accident at age
9. Doctors thought he would never recover. All three were exempted from army
service, but they desperately wanted to served and each used every avenue at his
or her disposal to become accepted as IDF volunteers, proving in the final
analysis that even people who for whatever reason are not mainstream, can make a
valuable contribution to the army and the nation.
As for the shadow of
tragedy, Col. Guy of the Israel Air Force who was one of the pilots in the IAF's
tribute to fallen comrades on Remembrance Day as well as one of the pilots in
the triumphant fly past on Independence Day, is the son of a pilot who has been
Missing in Action since the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Col. Guy was a 15 year old high
school student when his father went to war and never returned.
and his whereabouts remain unknown, so there is no closure for the
Prior to the ceremony Peres and Gantz reviewed an honor guard of
the outstanding soldiers, who were musically lauded by the IDF
The two groups were separated from each other only by a red
As Peres and Gantz walked past the soldiers they stopped to
exchange a few words, shake a hand or pat a shoulder.
Gantz, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak entered
the spacious back garden of the President's Residence where the awards ceremony
took place. They were applauded but did not receive nearly as lusty a reception
as that given to the soldiers as they marched their way towards the
Decorum simply disintegrated as parents, siblings and grandparents
stood up to take photos and to wave to their loved ones as television cameramen
screamed at them to sit down because they were blocking the view.
came 'Singing Independence' a custom introduced last year whereby the president,
the prime minister, the defense minister and the chief of staff each choose a
song to be sung by a well known singer or someone from the IDF entertainment
The master of ceremonies was actor and comedian Avi Kushnir who
engaged in friendly banter with all four dignitaries.
Peres chose 'Hallelujah,'
Israel's winning entry in the 1979 Eurovision Song Contest. Peres said it was
not just a song, but also a prayer which offered hope. Kushnir held the
microphone to the president's mouth and the audience was thrilled to hear him
sing together with four children who appear on the television program 'Music
Netanyahu chose two songs. His initial request was for 'Od lo Tamu
Playech' (Your wonders have not yet ceased) better known as 'Artzeinu
Haktantonet' (Our tiny country), and then he asked for 'Oseh Shalom' (He who
makes peace). Netanyahu sang the latter song first with great enthusiasm and was
joined by the crowd. Singer Rami Kleinstein joined him in singing the other song
and the crowd followed.
Barak, who is a fan of Leah Goldberg asked for her song
'Ha'omnam' (It's true) better known as 'At Telchi Basadeh' (You will walk in the
field), which was sung by Esther Rada.
Gantz said that Netanyahu had swiped his
choice so he settled for a similar theme with 'Anachnu lo Tzrichim' (We don’t
need) which in its own way tells the story of Israel. The singer was pop star
Roni Dalumi, who appeared in army uniform. Unlike many entertainers, Dalumi was
happy to serve in the IDF, and will complete her two year period of service in
two weeks time.
In his address not just to the nation but to the world
via Facebook and a number of television and radio outlets, Peres spoke of his
and the nation's pride in the soldiers.
"You are the outstanding soldiers of an
outstanding army," he said, telling them that they could spread their wings much
further than their predecessors and could do so with greater speed,
determination and strength than all the generations before them.
generation of outstanding soldiers would face the challenge of new, broader and
deeper horizons on land, in the air and on the sea, said Peres, adding "You will
rule the technology of the 21st century." Peres who was one of the chief
architects of the IDF, recalled knowing all the previous generations of
outstanding soldiers, and said that this generation is confronting a world that
has no technological limits. In this new situation he said, it was up to the
outstanding soldiers to vanquish the enemy, to prevent war, to emerge victorious
from conflict and to strengthen the security of the State of Israel.
IDF had often fought against what seemed to be insurmountable odds, said Peres,
and yet had overcome them due to the quality of its army
Harking back to the beginnings of the state, Peres cited the
prime example of the few emerging victorious from battling against the many,
when 650,000 Jews armed only with rifles, machine guns and mortars defeated 40
million Arabs who had tanks, canons and planes. What the IDF accomplished at
that time said Peres was totally inconceivable in relation to the resources that
it had at its disposal.
Bearing this in mind, Peres warned those who
threaten Israel today: "Don't make the same mistakes as you did the past. You
threaten us out of a desire to conquer, and we defend ourselves out of a desire
for peace." The wars which Israel did not initiate, but in which she was
engaged, resulted in unanticipated achievements, said Peres. Many people were
mistaken in their assessments of Israel, he continued.
"Israel, with a minute
population, a paucity of land, a scarcity of water, lack of natural resources
and isolated from the world was exceptional in its accomplishments, its defense
capability, its flourishing economy, its scientific level and its democratic
character. It is a strong state which prefers bridges of peace to fences against
"The Middle East is seething and brimming with various new threats
which should not be taken lightly, but which also should not inspire fear," he encouraged.
Commending commanders from the nascent days of the state to the present time,
Peres said that the veterans had bequeathed a legacy of an army with the highest
moral values and standards, turning doubt into achievement and perils into
"Israel doesn't threaten anyone and has no desire to rule another
nation," he said.
Peres also reserved special words of praise for Gantz,
who he said was precious to the nation, just as the nation was precious to
Gantz said that the IDF is ready and trained to meet every new
threat and eventuality.
Daniella Dolov who spoke on behalf of the
outstanding soldiers said that to be outstanding does not necessarily mean to be
excellent, but to know that one is taking the correct path. None of them would
have been able to get to where they are she said, without the encouragement and
support of their families who were equally entitled to be described as