Five hundred youth from Sderot, Sdot Negev and other Israeli towns near Gaza held a ceremony Wednesday in honor of IDF soldiers who fought in the Cast Lead counterterror operation two years ago. The operation led to a drastic reduction in the frequency at which Gaza terrorists fired rockets at nearby Israeli towns.
“The children of Sderot and the Gaza belt, who suffered from Kassam [rocket] attacks for many years, wanted to honor the soldiers who fought for them,” explained Rabbi Moshe Schor of B'Ayin Yehudit, the youth group that organized Wednesday's event.
In honor of the occasion, the youth sent Chanukah presents to hundreds of soldiers serving in the region. Several soldiers attended the event in Kibbutz Dorot and lit Chanukah candles together with their young hosts.
During the ceremony, a posthumous award was given to Dvir Emanueloff, the first soldier killed in Cast Lead. Dvir was killed in an attack in which two other soldiers, Liel Cohen and Shachaf Segel, were wounded.
The award was presented to his mother, Dalia, who said, “Through their actions, the youth of the South are fulfilling Dvir's finish wish. In the last message he sent me, Dvir wrote, 'We are fighting to restore the honor of the Jewish people.' The spirit of volunteerism that these youth have shown today tremendous and is a reason for national pride.”
Shachaf said, “The children of Sderot and the Gaza region have shown amazing sacrifice in the face of the difficult reality in the South. When we see the quiet in the region today and the wonderful projects of the youth [here], it makes me think that what I did during the operation was completely worth it.”
B'Ayin Yehudit was established three years ago. It focuses on teaching Jewish and Zionist values to youth in the South, particularly in small agricultural communities and kibbutzim (cooperative communities).
During the three-week Cast Lead operation IDF soldiers killed several hundred Hamas terrorists and took out many of Gaza's rockets, launch sites, smuggling tunnels and weapons plants. Following the operation Hamas took care to reduce rocket attacks, while accusing Israel of killing primarily civilians.
The international community was widely critical of the operation, and the United Nations created the heavily anti-Israel Goldstone Report, a document based on testimony from Gaza Arabs and far-left Israeli groups that accused Israel of violating international law.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently called on the world to apologize for its response to the Cast Lead fighting after Hamas itself admitted that at least 700 of those killed had been Hamas operatives.