President Shimon Peres held a special ceremony on Sunday for the two staff sergeants who had missed an awards ceremony for 120 outstanding soldiers representing all branches of the defense forces during Independence Day celebrations at the President’s Residence because of the injuries they sustained during a April 18 rehearsal at Mount Herzl.

One of the soldiers who had been among the 120 selected to receive citations and scholarships from President Shimon Peres and Chief of Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz was St.-Sgt. Hagar Zohar, an aerial defense instructor in the air force whose family lives in New York.

Instead of participating in the honor guard being inspected by Peres and Gantz on the morning the citations were distributed, Zohar was in Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem.

Zohar and St.-Sgt. Shay Kricheli, a soldier in the Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria who had been chosen to represent the COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories) unit at the ceremony for outstanding soldiers were both severely injured and are still not fully recovered.

Zohar is in rehabilitation and undergoing therapy, while Kricheli is still hospitalized at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, following his initial treatment at the capital’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Three other soldiers were lightly injured, but the worst result the collapse of lighting rigging was the instant death of Lt. Hila Bezaleli, a Medical Corps officer in the Jordan Valley Brigade who had dreamed of becoming a doctor.

Zohar, who still has a bandaged arm and who walks with the aid of a cane, told reporters that even though it was a great honor to be selected, she was not nearly as excited as she had been at the prospect of being at the Independence Day ceremony. The two months that she’s been in treatment have given her a different perspective on life, she said.

“What I’ve been through in the past two months overrides anything I experienced in the past two years,” she said, but declined to answer a question as to whether she had been able to get past the trauma of Bezaleli’s death.

Zohar sustained neck and back injuries as well as a broken arm.

Nonetheless she was able to salute smartly when she stood in front of Gantz.

Kricheli, who is on crutches, was unable to salute and was in obvious pain as his citation was handed to him.

Peres kissed them both and told them that they were young and that they would overcome their injuries. Zohar said she knew that she would eventually be whole and healthy again, but that she would not be able to do all the things that she had done before.

While in hospital she had been visited by the then-outgoing IAF commander Maj.- Gen. Ido Nechushtan as well as Peres and Gantz, while Kricheli’s visitors had included two Palestinian Authority liaison representatives, Yusuf Lafi and his deputy Nasim Algog, who had worked with him.

Gantz said the two soldiers had proved themselves to be outstanding both before and after their injuries.

A ceremony of this kind was not something to be taken for granted, he said, but he had never entertained a doubt that Peres would hold such a ceremony to try in some small measure to compensate the two soldiers. Zohar was accompanied by her mother and Kricheli by his parents and his two grandmothers. A large delegation of soldiers was also present.

When Peres was in New York last month, he met Zohar’s family.

Zohar has no intention of returning to New York to live. She intends to make Israel her permanent home.

After the ceremony, Peres spoke to reporters about Israel’s seventh prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, who died on Saturday. He had never met anyone who clung so tenaciously to his beliefs, said Peres, who said that Shamir’s ideology had been rooted in his personal history. Whether one agreed with him or disagreed with him, said Peres, one had to acknowledge his courage, his patriotism and his loyalty.

Peres credited Shamir with being responsible for facilitating large-scale Russian and Ethiopian immigration to Israel.

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