With a special focus on contributions by women to the building and development of the state in this year’s Independence Day celebrations, 45 female officers and soldiers were among the 120 outstanding soldiers honored Tuesday at a ceremony hosted by the president.
About a half a dozen of the soldiers could have easily secured exemptions for themselves if they so desired.
Not only that, but at least three have physical conditions, which aside from entitling them to exemptions would signify at first glance that they could not qualify for army service.
Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz underscored the devotion, dedication and personal example of the soldiers and said the IDF is a progressive army that provides the tools for its soldiers to advance and attain excellence in their careers and in their lives in general.
“Thanks to all the soldiers who protect our safety, we can celebrate Independence Day this year and in the years ahead,” he said.
Twins Guy and Dana Shur (Sharon) were born with severe speech defects and vision impairment. Moreover, their mother, Ruti Sharon, had every reason to refuse to have them serve.
Her husband, Moti, who served in the Israel Air Force, was killed in a helicopter crash when he was 26. At that time, one of their sons, Itai, was a toddler, and Ruti was determined that his life would be as normal as possible and that she would not deny him the right to follow in his father’s footsteps. Itai, when he was old enough, was accepted into the IAF and went on a summer training course during which he collapsed from heat and was not given the proper medical treatment.
In fact, there was acute medical negligence. His mother was not notified of his condition and he died four days after collapsing. He was 18.
When the Officer of the City (Katzin Ha’Ir) came to inform her that Itai had died, she was not at home. The only person in the house was Guy, who was 13 at the time. His mother still shudders at how anyone could tell a 13-year-old boy who was home alone that his brother had just died.
While the army initially denied negligence, it did eventually carry out an investigation and discovered that there had indeed been negligence. The only positive aspect that came out of the tragedy was that training sessions in the heat of summer have been abolished.
The 120 outstanding soldiers represent a broad swathe of the Israel social mosaic. Selected from all branches of the defense services, they comprise married and singles including Central Command battalion physician Lt. Dr. Biana Pertzov, who is married and pregnant, people from all types of communities, Beduin and Druze, soldiers from broken homes, lone soldiers and soldiers from large families, religious and secular, haredim who have become secular and have been disowned by most of their close relatives, rehabilitated delinquents, second-and third-generation soldiers from military families, immigrants who came on their own or with their families and volunteers who could have been exempted but against all odds were accepted.
Prior to the ceremony, the soldiers formed a three-row honor guard and were reviewed by President Shimon Peres and Gantz.
Led by Lt.-Col. Oded Nahari, head of the General Staff Ceremonies Department, Peres and Gantz slowly walked the rows to shake hands and chat briefly with the soldiers. All the soldiers eventually had the opportunity to shake hands with both Peres and Gantz when they were individually called up to receive their citations and scholarships donated by the Blavatnik Family Scholarship Foundation through the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel’s Soldiers.
Five of the soldiers are engaged in highly sensitive operations and were called only by their first names.
The ceremony was preceded by “Singing Independence,” a tradition established during Peres’s tenure whereby the president, prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff each sing a favorite song that somehow relates to the holiday. All the songs were dedicated to the late Arik Einstein.
Peres chose to sing with Rita, who despite having been injured in a traffic accident on Sunday was in fine form.
Rita said if anyone had told her when as an eightyear- old child coming to Israel from Iran that one day she would sing a duet with the president, she would have thought someone was telling her a tall tale. Master of ceremonies Zvika Hadar responded that there are some good things that came out of Iran.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sang with Shlomi Saranga, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon with Kobi Aflalo and Gantz with Pvt. Yuval Dayan.
Peres expressed his pride in the soldiers, telling them they were the progeny of an ancient people, which was granted redemption in a land small in size but great in its moral calling.
They were the sons and daughters of a nation that not so long ago had experienced the Holocaust and since then had fought seven wars – “a nation that was exiled to the four corners of the earth and came together again to be one people,” he said.
Lauding the IDF’s bravery, Peres said Israel surprised the world when it demonstrated that small armies can achieve great victories. Israel’s existence, he said, was secured by the heroism of her soldiers.
He also cautioned that the generation of this year’s outstanding soldiers will stand against the challenges of “more demanding winds blowing from distant horizons” than did its predecessors.
Netanyahu voiced his pride in being prime minister but declared he was never prouder than on a day like this when he could thank soldiers for making a unique contribution and guaranteeing the state’s security.
Ya’alon praised the soldiers’ initiative, and said the state had every reason to be proud of them.