THESE EIGHT MEN were killed on July 16, 2006, when a Hezbollah rocket struck the Haifa train depot. From top left: Rafi Hazan, Asael Damti, Shmuel Ben-Shimon and Nissim Elharrar, and from bottom left: David Feldman, Shlomi Mansoura, Dennis Lapidus and Reuven Levi..
(photo credit: ISRAEL RAILWAYS)
Eleven years after losing husbands, sons and brothers when a rocket fired by Hezbollah hit the Haifa train depot where they were working, the families of eight employees of Israel Railways finally received the nation’s appreciation for the heroism of their loved ones.
Scores of people were injured by the direct rocket hit on July 16, 2006, some of them critically.
The eight who died were: Shmuel Ben Shimon, 41, of Yokne’am Illit; Asael Damti, 39, Dennis Lapidos, 24, and David Feldman, 28, of Kiryat Yam; Nissim Elharar, 43, and Reuven Levy, 46, of Kiryat Ata; Rafi Hazan, 30, of Haifa; and Shlomi Mansura, 35, of Nahariya.
The rocket was one of 4,000 fired at Israel during the Second Lebanon War, President Reuven Rivlin told relatives of the victims and many of their colleagues from the Israel Railways at a ceremony at the President’s Residence on Sunday. Relatives of the eight railway employees were given service medals identical to those given to soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces who served in the Second Lebanon War.
Rivlin paid tribute to the late Uri Orbach, former minister of pensioner affairs. It was Orbach who first pushed to recognize the eight men who – despite the dangers they faced working in wartime while rockets were raining from the North – saw it as their mission to ensure the trains kept running.
Following Orbach’s death in February 2015, MK Eyal Ben-Reuven (Zionist Union) took up the cause and in July of this year, a bill to this effect was passed by the Knesset.
Rivlin called the result of the attack on the railway depot “one of the worst civilian tragedies of the war.”
He also noted that the Comptroller’s Report in the aftermath of the tragedy underscored that the home front had not been sufficiently prepared, and that there had been flaws in such operations throughout the war.
Since then, he added, defense of the home front has improved enormously, “but we must do more to be prepared for emergencies.”
While people can wander freely in the North, he said, Israel must remain constantly alert, “because our enemies are always preparing for another attack. And if there is one, it will be very heavy.”
The award, recognizing the bravery of the railway employees, was being made for the first time, Rivlin said. “It cannot really comfort you and nothing can replace your loss, but at least we can demonstrate to you that we salute the sacrifice of your loved ones.”
Transportation Minister Israel Katz said the occasion was as emotional for him as it was for the families, because he too had been involved in the effort to give recognition to the eight men who lost their lives. “They fell in service to the state,” he said.
Katz also paid tribute to former justice minister Yaakov Neeman, who died in January of this year. Neeman also played a significant role in formulating legislation to give the eight men the recognition they deserved. “If we can honor military heroes and victims of terror, we can certainly honor people who see it as their mission to continue working in wartime,” said Katz.
Katz said his great regret was that the men did not live to see the fruits of their labors. Like so many other railway employees, they made a significant contribution toward linking the whole country through the railway network, he said, emphasizing that this linkage serves to strengthen the nation.
Israel Railways CEO Shahar Ayalon stressed the significance of the posthumous awards, and also praised Katz for having made the arrangements for every possible legal benefit to be granted to the surviving families, including free train travel.
“The public has to understand the dilemmas that face railway workers in emergency situations,” Ayalon said.