Remembering the stories of Israel's military heroes on Independence Day

In the 222 pages of the paperback, Peter Bailey tells the fascinating and heroic stories of all 40 recipients of the Medal of Valor

Avigdor Kahalani. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Avigdor Kahalani.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Following Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, writer Peter Bailey notes in his new book, Men of Valor: Israel’s Latter-Day Heroes, it was felt that soldiers who had distinguished themselves on the battlefield needed to be recognized. A year later, a military committee decided that a decoration of bravery, known as the Hero of Israel ribbon, would be awarded to 12 recipients, representing the Tribes of Israel. 
In 1970, after years of deliberation, a decision was made to replace the Hero of Israel ribbon with a new decoration to be known as the Medal of Valor, approved and awarded by the minister of defense.
“The Medal of Valor has been awarded to heroic participants of the seven major conflicts Israel fought between the years 1948 and 1973,” Bailey, a South African immigrant who lives in Hod Hasharon, writes in the Foreword to the book. “During the Yom Kippur War it was awarded to soldiers who were recognized as having saved the existence of the State of Israel through ongoing leadership rather than as having performed a single heroic deed.”
Lt.-Col. Avigdor Kahalani was the 40th and last recipient of the medal, which he received for his heroic actions during the Yom Kippur War. The first recommendation for the Medal of Valor in 43 years was made on November 16, 2018 to Lt.-Col. M., who fell during an operation in Gaza, but it was decided to give him the Medal of Courage instead.  
In the 222 pages of the paperback, Bailey tells the fascinating and heroic stories of all 40 recipients of the Medal of Valor, designed by Dan Reisinger, an acclaimed Serbian-Israeli graphic designer who also designed the Medal of Courage and the Medal of Distinguished Service – the IDF’s top three awards.
“(The Medal of Valor) is a Star of David with a sword and olive branch superimposed on the left, attached to a yellow ribbon,” Bailey points out. “The olive branch symbolizes Israel’s desire for peace, while the sword symbolizes its readiness to defend itself. The yellow ribbon serves as a reminder of the yellow star Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.”
There is no space in a short review to mention all the stories of the 40 brave men told by Bailey, and you really have to read the book to appreciate each and every one of them.
But the two who fascinated me most were Pvt. Yair Racheli, the first soldier to be awarded the Hero of Israel ribbon for action in pre-IDF 1948, and Maj.-Gen. Kahalani, the last.
Racheli, according to Bailey, received it for “an act of heroism in which he crept up to an enemy position near the Arab village of Shfaram, about five miles west of Ramat Yohanan, and silenced a machine gun with a hand grenade.” You’ll have to read the book to get the full story.
“When Racheli turned 88 in 2017, he was the sole remaining survivor of the 12 recipients of the Hero of Israel ribbon awarded during the War of Independence,” Bailey says, noting that he was honored with a certificate of appreciation on the 70th anniversary of the IDF for his service to the country.
Kahalani was awarded the Medal of Valor in 1975 for his bravery during a tank battle against the Syrians on the northern Golan Heights in 1973. “Lieutenant Colonel Kahalani displaced remarkable leadership and personal heroism in a difficult and complicated battle,” proving to be one of the turning points of the Yom Kippur War, according to the official citation quoted by Bailey.
After a distinguished military career in which he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, Kahalani – the son of Yemenite immigrants – was tasked in 1991 by the prime minister at the time, Yitzhak Shamir, with a mission to arrange for the covert transfer of Yemenite Jews to Israel.
“Between August 1992 and July 1993, over 1,000 Jews left Yemen, thanks to Kahalani’s efforts,” Bailey says.
Bailey, a former major in the South African Defense Force Reserve and an expert on the Jewish contribution to that country’s military, made aliyah with his family in 2013. He has previously published a book titled Street Names in Israel, which details the biographies and history of the many people, places and events behind the names of the country’s roads.
Men of Valor: Israel’s Latter-Day Heroes (Kotarim International Publishing Ltd, December 30, 2019) is highly recommended and easy to read. It is guaranteed to leave any supporter of Israel with a strong sense of pride in the Jewish state’s fighting men – and today women as well – of valor. The book is available via the author’s website ( and on Amazon, with 50 percent of the proceeds going to Yahad, the only organization authorized to receive donations for the welfare and well-being of IDF soldiers.