Mali tragedy

Shmuel Benalal came to Israel as a youth and lived in the Judean Hills community of Tzur Hadassah with his wife, Flory, and three sons, before he was killed in the Mali terror attack.

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November 22, 2015 22:21
3 minute read.
French soldiers leave the Radisson hotel in Bamako, Mali, Nov 20

French soldiers leave the Radisson hotel in Bamako, Mali, Nov 20. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 Among almost two dozen victims of Friday’s terrorist attack at the Radisson Blu Hotel in the Malian capital of Bamako on Friday was the much-loved and respected Israeli educator, Shmuel (Sammy) Benalal.

The Benalal family issued a statement voicing hope that his body would soon be returned to Israel for burial.

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“We are shocked and in pain. We hope that all the relevant organizations are working to bring him home to us as soon as possible,” it said.

Even though Israel and Mali do not have diplomatic relations, Benalal served as a senior adviser to the Mali government, helping to stem the growing dropout of students from local schools. Described by friends as “a gentle giant,” he exemplified the good humanitarian work that many Israelis do around the world. His death at the age of 60 is a tragedy for his family, friends, colleagues, students and all those he helped here and abroad.

The Venezuelan-born Benalal came to Israel as a youth and lived in the Judean Hills community of Tzur Hadassah with his wife, Flory, and three sons. He was a faculty member at the Mandel School for Educational Leadership and, in recent years, served as the CEO of the Telos Group Ltd., a consulting company that specializes in the international development of education, mostly in third world countries.

Benalal wrote guidebooks on developing schools, educational planning and curricula, as well as the integration of parent committees into education and the integration of special needs children in schools.

He assisted schools in Jewish communities around the world, serving for a time as principal of the Tarbut Jewish School in Mexico. He was also an academic adviser at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Sheila Raviv, a family friend, noted that: “Sammy sang with the choir Hakol Yachassi Jerusalem and was deeply loved by all.” On Saturday night, friends and family gathered at her Jerusalem home “to cry, hug and to tell stories of the man whose purpose in life was tikkun olam.”

“Shmuel, sweet of voice and manner, traveled the world setting up systems of education in many countries,” said Raviv. “The Education Ministry of Mali requested help to set up an education system that was not fundamentalist Islam. Shmuel was supposed to return home in the next day or so.”

According to news reports from the scene of the attack, two gunmen shouting “Allahu akbar” sprayed bullets on tables of people having breakfast on Friday morning. The gunmen, who held some 170 people hostage and murdered at least 20, were apparently killed by security forces.

Two jihadist groups claimed responsibility for the attack.

The hotel had been hosting delegations attending peace talks in the former French colony, which has been battling Islamist extremists for years with the aid of UN and French peacekeepers.

At least 13 other foreign nationals were among the victims, including six Russian airline employees, three Chinese, two Belgians, a Senegalese and an American.

US aid worker Anita Datar, 41, was a senior manager at Palladium Group and a founding member of Tulalens, a non-profit organization connecting under-served communities with health services.

Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita vowed his country would not cower to terror. “Mali will not shut down because of this attack. Paris and New York were not shut down and Mali won’t be. Terrorism will not win,” Keita said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday urged Russia and the US to cooperate on rooting out terrorism.

“All these terrorists and ideology extremists should be defeated in the name of humanity,” he said. “In that regard, we need to unite. We need to show global solidarity to address the common enemy of ISIL, Daesh, some other extremists and terrorist groups.”

The UN chief is right. The US, Russia and the whole international community need to unite now to stop what appears to be a wave of terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists intent on instilling fear around the globe.

The civilized world must take action now to stop this barbaric behavior. Here, in Israel, we unfortunately have had decades of experience. The Israeli people have developed a resilience that enables them to continue with their lives despite the human horror of terrorism.

We extend our condolences to the families and friends of Shmuel Benalal and all the victims of the Mali atrocity. May their memories be a blessing, and may Benalal’s good work be remembered as a beacon of light in these dark days.


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