Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan and Bayit Yehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett meet with disabled IDF soldiers.
(photo credit: OFFICE OF DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER ELI BEN-DAHAN)
As the world marks International Day of Persons with Disabilities, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan has vowed to shorten the procedure for disabled persons to join the IDF, calling disabled soldiers “an example of determination.”
The annual day of recognition was proclaimed by a United Nations General Assembly resolution in 1992 with the aim of promoting the rights and increasing awareness of the situation of people with disabilities worldwide.
Led by Ben-Dahan, members of the Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party met with several disabled IDF soldiers who volunteer in the Israel Air Force through the Gdolim b’Madim (Special in Uniform)
program that integrates young people with autism and other disabilities into the IDF and, later on, into Israeli society.
Thousands of young people with conditions such as cerebral palsy, autism and intellectual disabilities were turned away from the army until 2008, when Lt. Col. (Ret.) Ariel Almog founded Gdolim b’Madim with the Social Services Ministry, making it possible for Israelis with disabilities to serve in the IDF. The program now operates in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA).
During the meeting, Ben-Dahan said he would meet in the coming days with Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz, the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, and ask that the procedures for recruiting volunteers be shortened.
“The army did not want to accept me at first. But I do not like to hear the word ‘no!’” said 21-year-old Yehonatan Gil, who later joined the IAF at the end of 2016. “You wouldn’t have expected me to be so persistent about enlisting, but I did it. I would be happy if it were possible to speed up the bureaucracy.”
The members of the faction who participated in the meeting were Bayit Yehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan, MK Shuli Mualem-Refaeli and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel.
“At a time when there has been a sharp decline in motivation for combat service, there are those who are fighting the system to volunteer for service in the IDF,” Mualem-Refaeli said. “Being disabled is not an obstacle for those who believe in themselves and want to contribute to the state. Many in Israeli society have something to learn from you. When you serve in the IDF, everyone benefits – the IDF, the soldiers and Israeli society.”
According to data released by the IDF on Sunday, there is a slight decrease in combat recruitment from last year, and it is expected to continue to drop.