Accompanied by a police motorcycle escort, some 200 handicapped IDF veterans
raced from the President’s Residence to Beit Halohem (House of the Warrior) on
Thursday, in phase two of what is intended to be an annual
Brig.-Gen. (res.) Haim Ronen, who heads the IDF Handicapped
Veterans Association, recounted that three years ago, there had been a decision
to devote the week of Hanukka to activities on behalf of disabled IDF veterans,
with the aim of strengthening their connections to the army and in recognition
of their courage.
Two years ago, the veterans’ association and Beit
Halohem introduced a 10-km. torch relay for disabled soldiers to encourage their
interest in sports and their spirit of competition.
Among those who
showed up at the President’s Residence on Thursday was cyclist Kobi Leon, who
won a silver medal in the London Paralympics – and would have won another, said
Ronen, if one of the tires on his bike hadn’t burst in the last stretch of the
race. Ronen was confident that Leon would come home with more medals from the
Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
In saluting the veterans, all
of whom received rehabilitation therapies, including sports at Beit Halohem
facilities in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Beersheba, President Shimon Peres
shook hands with nearly all of them, making special efforts to reach those at
the rear of the group.
“I think that all of you deserve a medal because
you fought two wars – one, which was brief, and in which you were wounded, and
now the second war against your injuries, which you will have to fight for all
your lives,” he said.
The president commended the veterans for their
courage, resilience and refusal to allow their disabilities to triumph over
them. He was convinced that it was this attitude that had enabled them to stay
“That’s something that makes all of you heroes,” he said. “We love
you and we are proud of you.”
Then, asking if they were ready to race and
receiving an affirmative reply, he shouted, “Go!” The cyclists, riding two- and
three-wheeled bikes, were the first to leave, followed by people in wheelchairs
and on scooters, and then the runners, though some lingered to be photographed
On the previous evening, several of those present had
participated in a tribute to the Israeli Paralympic team and a final rundown of
achievements at the Dan Hotel in Tel Aviv, where the resilience Peres mentioned
At that event, which took place in a basement area of the
hotel, Gold-medalist Noam Gershony – the Apache helicopter pilot who was
critically wounded in a plane crash during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 – came
in on his crutches and refused to use the elevator, saying he would walk
instead. Several of his colleagues followed his example. Once downstairs in the
reception area, Gershony did not take the weight off his legs, but stood for
most of the time talking to friends and acquaintances.