Three disabled Israeli youth enlist in the IDF

Deputy Defense Minister Ben Dahan: "We must salute the IDF for this."

December 22, 2016 19:28
2 minute read.
Disabled Israeli youth enlist in the IDF.

Disabled Israeli youth enlist in the IDF.. (photo credit: OFFICE OF DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER ELI BEN-DAHAN)

For most Israelis, serving in the IDF is a significant phase in their life, but for many with disabilities, the army has historically slammed the door shut for them. 

But on Thursday three young Israelis with special needs enlisted as part of Gdloim b’Madim,“Special in Uniform”, with the assistance of the Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan. Special in Uniform is a unique program, now operating in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA). It integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and, later on, into Israeli society.

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One of them, Omer Lahat, was born in 1995 with severe cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. His father, Or, is a former pilot in the Air Force, serving in a variety of positions, including as deputy squadron commander and then the commander and chief editor of the camp newspaper.

Omer’s dream was to serve in the Air Force, like his father, but due to his condition, he was exempted from military service.

Thousands of young people disabilities such as cerebral palsy, autism, and intellectual disabilities were turned away from the army until 2008, when Lt. Col. (Ret.) Ariel Almog founded Gdloim b’Madim with the Israeli Ministry of Social Services, making it possible for Israelis with disabilities to serve in the IDF.

According to the organization's website, as of September 2016, over 200 male and female soldiers with special needs and varying degrees of disabilities serve in the IDF at bases such as the Air Force base at Palmachim, the Navy base in Eilat, the Homeland Security bases Ramla and Bilu, as part of the program.

After he was exempted from service, Omer decided to approach Lt.-Res.Almog, to ask if he would help him enlist in the Air Force.  Almog took up the challenge and recruited him to do voluntary service at Palmachim Air Force base in central Israel where, every Monday for a year and half, he worked on dismantling old helicopters to send for recycling.

During that time there were several attempts made to recruit Omer and fulfil his dream as a full enlisted soldier in the Air Force, but due to his medical condition, the attempts failed. Omer was then sent by the Special Children's Memorial Association for an interview with Deputy Defense Minister MK Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan, where he asked him to help him enlist.

According to Rabbi Ben-Dahan, he took on Omer’s request as personal project, telling The Jerusalem Post that while it took some time, on November 2 he informed Omer’s parents in an official letter that he had finally been approved for recruitment.

“The IDF is the only army in the world which accepts people with these type of disabilities, it open it doors, and gives them the opportunity to serve, to wear the uniform and really feel part of the army,” Ben-Dahan said, adding that “we really have to salute the IDF for this”

On Thursday, Omer, accompanied by his family and Ben-Dahan, along with two other disabled recruits, finally fulfilled his dream of joining the Air Force, putting on the uniform and saluting, like his father did years ago.

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