The State of Israel owes its independence to the men and women who fought bravely against enemy armies throughout many conflicts and wars.  As we approach its 69th Independence Day anniversary, to be celebrated next week, we heard the stories of Zahal (IDF) Disabled Veterans who paid with the ultimate price, their bodies and souls, so that Israel could be free

 On May 2 the State of Israel will be observing its 69th Independence Day anniversary.  Every year, this day is celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar – on the 5th Day of Iyar, the day the Jewish State was established.  Despite the great joy of the upcoming celebrations, the State of Israel has continued fighting for its independence every year of its existence.  Over 17 armed conflicts and major military operations have taken place leaving over 51,000 Zahal Disabled Veterans.

Captain Ran Ben Atia was serving in the Nahal Brigade when he entered with his men into Gaza on the third day of “Operation Protective Edge” in the summer of 2014.  On his way to their mission, he was hit by a sniper’s 0.5 mm bullet.  It crushed his hand, penetrated his thigh and was finally lodged in the center of his pelvis near his spine.  The doctors decided not to take it out for fear of damage to his spine.  A few weeks later, after the IDF analyzed the X-Rays it was decided the bullet might implode in his body and would have to be carefully extracted immediately.  No electronic devices could be used during the surgery to prevent the bullet from exploding.  The greatest professional experts were consulted and it was decided one single surgeon would perform the operation wearing a protective vest.  He was able to carefully extract the bullet with a pair of tweezers.  The operation was a success.  Ran rehabilitated himself, he got married, has a family, completed his studies and began coming to Beit Halochem.  He took part in the Courage in Motion bike ride organized by Beit Halochem Canada and rode on the toughest route.  “Bringing myself from a place where the doctors gave me half an hour to live all the way to creating and being responsible for a new life, that’s an amazing thing.  When I saw my wife in labor, I could no longer complain about my own aches and pains, I needed to be a father now”, says Ben Atia.

Ben Atia’s story is that of 51,000 Zahal Disabled Veterans who are taken care of daily, annually and for the rest of their lives by the dedicated and caring staff of the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization (ZDVO).  The ZDVO is a non-profit organization serving all those wounded and left with a lifelong disability while serving in defense of the State of Israel.  The organization stands by each and every one of them during the long road towards rehabilitation.  Amongst others, it provides assistance with their physical and emotional rehabilitation as well as legal and economic matters.  It does so through its five District Offices and its four Beit Halochem Rehabilitation, Sports and Recreation Centers.  These were built throughout the country to reach as many of the thousands of disabled veterans as possible together with their families.  These facilities are unique in the world.  They address every aspect of the members’ rehabilitation, providing physical challenges through sports activities as well as a wide array of occupational therapy courses.  A very important feature at Beit Halochem is the meeting of “generations” of disabled, bringing together old-timers with newcomers who must learn to adjust to the difficult and complex world of disability.

72 yr. old Aliz Noi from Ramat Hasharon is one of the happiest people you’ll ever meet.  “I chose the lights that life offers us and not the shadows.  My injury taught me never to give up, never to give-in to the difficulties and to always make an effort to reach the top.  I learned that trauma or failure can actually become a step on the way to success”, says Noi who was born on the Moshava of Kinneret and lost his leg at age 22.

Aliz served with the Paratroopers during the Six Days War and during the fighting found himself with his company fighting around Jerusalem.  It was our unit’s mission to prevent the advancement of a Jordanian Tank Division towards the City of Jerusalem.  Aliz’ company encountered the Jordanian tanks and after heavy fighting the enemy tank division retreated.  The mission was accomplished successfully.  Unfortunately, Aliz was wounded.

Aliz Noi. Courtesy of Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization

“The main artery in my leg was hit.  Had I not been treated within the first 10 minutes I wouldn’t be amongst the living today.  Fortunately, a medic reached me and gave me lifesaving first aid.  A couple of days later the doctors said that gangrene had formed in my leg and they would have to amputate it below the knee.  At hospital, he had to deal both with the physical pain as well as with the mental torment.  “You can’t imagine what a mental blow it is for a young man, only 22 yrs. old, to lose a leg.  No one prepared me or my friends for such a situation.  In the beginning we didn’t know what to do”, recalls Aliz sadly of those first moments after the amputation.

Aliz didn’t feel sorry for himself too much and very soon he understood he needed to come to terms with the situation and move forward.  The Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization sent older veterans to visit the new wounded.  These visits saved him.  One day, this big, friendly guy enters my hospital room with his wife and tells me he lost his leg during the War of Independence.  That same guy also told me he walks quite normally and has absolutely no limitations in his everyday life.  He told me of the various sports activities offered to the disabled veterans of the IDF.  Things I was passionate about like swimming and table tennis.  I remember saying to myself that this story is beginning to sound very interesting.  When the fellow and his wife left the room, I said goodbye  and added: ‘Thank you friends.  I’ll see you at the next Olympic Games”.

Two years later Aliz was already on his way to compete in St. Etienne.  “At that point I could clearly see the light at the end of the tunnel.  I had no reason to feel sorry for myself.  I wouldn’t let anyone feel sorry for me.  I even refrained from letting my mother know of my condition for the first several weeks after my injury because I knew she would pity me and I wanted to prevent her from feeling sorry for me”.

To support and assist the rehabilitation of those mentioned in this piece along with thousands of others, the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization raises funds annually for rehabilitation activity of the veterans.  “I’m fortunate to have the great opportunity of helping those who defended my family and country with their bodies and souls.  It is a great privilege to see how our work helps to rehabilitate each and every one of them.  I would like to thank the members of Jewish Community of France who contribute generously and support our organization.  Friends, without you it would be so much more difficult to help these heroes”, says Dr. Moshe Shemma, Executive Director of the Zahal Disabled Veterans Fund.

The Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization (ZDVO) is a registered non-profit organization, established in the wake of the War of Independence (1949), with the purpose of providing the 6,000 disabled veterans from this war with all their needs towards the long process of their rehabilitation. It is the only organization legally responsible for representing those veterans wounded and disabled while serving in defense of the State of Israel.