Israel is commemorating four decades since the daring rescue operation in Entebbe, Uganda. In a moving ceremony this week at the Peres Center for Peace child survivors from the rescue presented Sorin Hershko, one of the IDF rescue force who was severely wounded in the operation, with a certificate of appreciation.
On July 4th 1976, elite Israeli commandos, led by thirty year old Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu rescued over hundred hostages from Entebbe, over 2000 miles from Israel, in a daring operation that stunned the world. The only military casualty of the operation was its planner and leader on the ground, Yoni himself, who died as he had lived, leading from the front. As we pause to remember the deeds and memory of Yonatan Netanyahu we should also take the opportunity to honour all of his comrades who took part in the operation, some of who are still paying the price for their selfless bravery today.
A few summers ago, I was walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, leading a Birthright tour, when I noticed a slight man being pushed in a wheel chair. He had a beautiful smile on his face. Something seemed familiar about him. I suddenly recalled having seen a documentary film on the Entebbe rescue and remember that one of the commandos was severely wounded and ended up a paraplegic due to injuries he sustained during the rescue of the Israeli hostages. This individual in front of me reminded me of that injured soldier. When I approached him and asked him if he was Sorin Hershko, he was glad that I recognised him and was happy to chat with me. I was humbled to be standing in the presence of a genuine hero of the Jewish people, who had paid for his selfless courage by being confined to a wheel chair with 100% paralysis for the remainder of his life.
Rather than succumbing to self-pity, Hershko co-founded LOTEM, a non-profit organization that now serves about 30,000 Israelis every year through a range of nature clubs and outdoor programs geared to children and adults with physical, communication and intellectual disorders, hearing and vision impairment.
The brilliant and selfless rescue operation conducted by Yoni, Sorin and their brothers in arms, whose sole purpose was to rescue their fellow Jews in distress, reminded Jews everywhere of the Raison d’être of the Jewish State and the IDF. As the induction oath of the IDF clearly states:
I swear…to devote all of my strength, and even to sacrifice my life, in the defense of the homeland and the freedom of Israel”
Jews in distress and danger anywhere in the world always know that the strong arm of the IDF is able to reach out them protect them and bring them home, in the spirit of Entebbe, wherever they are, even from the depths of Africa!