IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and President Shimon Peres both spoke at last week’s memorial service for Yoni Netanyahu, brother of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was killed 35 years ago during an IDF operation to rescue passengers from a hijacked Air France flight in Entebbe, Uganda.
“Unfortunately, I never met Yoni, since I am the first chief of staff that joined the army after Yoni fell,” said Gantz, adding, “Even though I didn’t know him, I knew of him. As a 17-year-old boy, about a year before I volunteered for the paratroopers, I looked up, like many others had done, to the celebrated commander who fell as he led one of army’s greatest operations.
“If I had to choose one of Yoni’s sayings which especially touched me at the time,” continued Gantz, “I’d go back to that letter he wrote as a young officer and which read: ‘The responsibility lays on me, on us, the youth in Israel, to guard the state’s welfare. It’s a heavy responsibility which matures us ahead of time. It seems though Israelis belong to a special kind of people. It’s hard to explain it but easy to feel it.’
"This sentence expresses a feeling which is felt by almost every fighter and commander: the burden and the privilege inherent in the duty to guard the people and country. This feeling accompanied me throughout my years of service, as a sort of reminder which hovers above the daily routine. This is also the feeling which accompanies the IDF’s fighters and commanders today.
“In the last few years we hear more and more sayings that the youth of the 2000s has developed a blanket of indifference and is reluctant to volunteer, to contribute and to make a difference,” added the Chief of Staff. “But as someone who sees the fighters in the field, as someone who has looked into their eyes and has seen in them that special race which Yoni was talking about, I can tell you that they are ready for any challenge and any task because they are committed and imbued with a sense of mission no less than Yoni.”
President Peres, who served as Israel’s Minister of Defense during the operation, recalled finding out that Yoni Netanyahu had been killed.
“At 3 a.m. I heard a knock on the door,” he said. “[Then IDF Chief of Staff] Motta Gur stood there, pale as a sheet. ‘Shimon, Yoni is gone. A bullet hit him in the back and pierced his heart.’ I couldn’t stop my tears. Yoni for me was a representative of the strong and the beautiful within us.”
Turning to the Netanyahu family, Peres said: “Yoni was a hero. Yoni was a man of spirit. The first to join a mission and, this time, also the first to die.”