Peres gives Israel's Paralympic team a golden farewell in Jerusalem

President honors 41 Israeli paralympic athletes who will compete in the Games to be held in Beijing beginning two weeks after the Olympics.

Peres 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Peres 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Most of them are older than the athletes who generally compete in local, regional and global contests. In addition, they are physically challenged. Yet few groups have brought as much pride and glory to Israel as the national Paralympics team. On Sunday President Shimon Peres held a special reception at Beit Hanassi in honor of the 41 Israeli paralympic athletes who will compete in the Games to be held in Beijing beginning two weeks after the Olympics. The athletes came to bid farewell to the president who will be leaving for Beijing later this week. Peres showered the disabled athletes with praise, saying "they've brought the greatest yields of gold to our country." Four years ago in Athens Israel ended 32nd on the medal table, bringing home four golds, four silvers and five bronzes. This year's team to compete in the 11-day event which begins on September 6, will number only two less than the Israel Olympic team. "I promise that we will do our utmost to maintain that tradition and come home with medals," Moshe Matalon, chairman of the IDF Disabled War Veteran Association who will lead the Israeli Paralympic team to Beijing, told Peres. Peres had no doubt that they would return home with medals. "You are the Olympic gold of Israel," he told them. Characterizing the members of the team as "superb," "amazing" and "fantastic," Peres said that they symbolized Israel's strength and determination not to give in under the most difficult of circumstances and to continue the struggle no matter what. He called them the flag bearers of the sporting spirit. The team is made up of disabled veterans, victims of terrorism, people who have suffered disabilities as a result of automobile accidents and people who were born with disabilities. Israel Sports Association for the Disabled (ISAD) Chairman Danny Ben Abu pledged that the athletes would do everything possible to have the Israeli flag hoisted frequently to the sound of Hatikva in Beijing. Among those present on Sunday was Isaac Sutton, the new honorary president of ISAD who replaces Stanley Silverstein. Sutton, who was born in Lebanon, lives in New York, calls himself an Aleppo Jew and has substantial philanthropic and business interests in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that when he was approached to help out the disabled athletes he couldn't refuse "because these are the people we have to stand behind." "They show us the spirit of Israel - never giving up and coming home winners," he added. Three outstanding athletes were honored at the reception for bringing home gold medals from the recent world championships - free rifle shooter Doron Shaziri and swimmers Itzhak Mamistvalov and Inbal Pezaar. Swimmer Hanoch Bodin, a disabled IDF veteran with eight Paralympic medals to his credit, transferred the flag that he carried in Athens to blind swimmer Izhar Cohen, the most veteran participant in the Paralympics, who will be participating for the seventh time, and has won six medals, three of them gold. Despite their success, Israel's paralympic athletes receive considerably less government funding than their able bodied counterparts. According to Matalon, the government budgeted NIS 9 million towards the Olympic team and only NIS 900,000 towards the Paralympic athletes, even though the latter team consistently comes home with a relatively large number of medals including several golds. In the absence of Science Culture and Sports Minister Ghaleb Majadle, Dr. Yoav Rosen, the director general of the Ministry, said that despite budgetary cutbacks, the Ministry would do all in its power to increase the budget for disabled athletes, and will attempt to close the budgetary gap between them and regular athletes. He said that knew that Majadle was fighting towards this objective and that Peres was also using his influence in the same direction.