Memorial for the victims of the 1997 Israeli helicopter disaster
Memorial for the victims of the 1997 Israeli helicopter disasterFlash 90

Defense Minister Benny Gantz today delivered a recorded speech at the memorial service for the victims of the helicopter disaster, which was held under the leadership of the "Association for the Commemoration of the Victims of the Helicopter Disaster in Sha'ar Yishuv."

The ceremony was attended by President Reuven Rivlin, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, Home Front Command Commander Major General Uri Gordin, Chief Education and Youth Officer Brigadier General Ofir Levius, Wounded Soldier's Liaison Colonel Idit Solomon, Lt. Col. (Res.) Gadi Izenkot, The head of the Families, Commemoration, and Heritage Department at the Ministry of Defense, Aryeh Mualem, the chairman of the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization, Tami Shelach, and the chairman of the Yad Labanim organization, Eli Ben Shem.

"I will not forget the sights I saw when I arrived in the field - and I carry them with me forever," Gantz began.

"We, the leaders, have a responsibility to ensure that the memory and heritage of each and every one of them stays with us forever. I am proud of the IDF and the Air Force in particular for the culture of inquiry that it leads and give full backing to commanders who perform their job best, sometimes in difficult conditions. At the same time, we should continue to mention and convey the message to all commanders - the citizens of Israel entrust to us what is most precious to them, and we have the task of getting better, learning, not being complacent or succumbing to fatigue. I, who grew up in the military system, know very well that this is how you commanders behave and I strengthen you; I know how much human life has been saved thanks to this culture that we must constantly improve and preserve."

The Defense Minister referred to the situation on the northern border. "Three-and-a-half years after the disaster, we left Lebanon, with the blood of our killed absorbed in its soil. We made it clear time and time again that we will not allow Hezbollah and the Iranians to turn Lebanon into a terror state. Today the IDF continues to operate on the border. We will not hesitate to hinder the intensification and establishment of Iran beyond our borders, and Nasrallah is well aware that his decision to build ammunition and missile bunkers, and to perfect Hezbollah's capabilities, endangers him and endangers the citizens of the Lebanese state. The Lebanese government should also know this and take responsibility. If a front is opened in the north, the state of Lebanon will be the one to pay the heaviest price for the weapons scattered in civilian concentrations."

Gantz updated the bereaved parents in his speech on the progress of work on giving a battle citation to the casualties from the security zone is expected to end soon.

President Reuven Rivlin also spoke at the event and there was a small meeting with representatives of the families of the victims of the disaster, Hannah and Reuven Babian, the parents of the late Lt. Alon Babian and Yael and Jonathan (Johnny) Mishaker, the parents of the late Sergeant Gilad Mishaker, and more families who joined the meeting online.

"It is difficult to hold this ceremony in memory of your beloved sons in this way through TV screens. I know it is very difficult for you too," the president told the parents and continued: "We cannot meet with you, as every year. We can not embrace you into our hearts. We can not hug you as we would like, we do it all, but remotely.

"I remember very well, that cursed night. Everyone who was old enough then - will not be able to forget. That flight, a flight without survivors. The most serious accident in the history of the Israeli Air Force. The beautiful faces of the boys, the stories and memories, the shock that struck us at the scale of the disaster: 73 fighters. 73 boys, so young. So beloved. And the phrase that has since been etched in our personal and national memory: 'The helicopter disaster'," the president added.

"The pain of bereavement is a national pain, but it is first and foremost a private, personal, daily pain. Deep. Your pain. One that accompanies you every moment. A pain that has no cure and no comfort. There is no day that you do not experience the loss. Nothing will fill the void," the president told the families, emphasizing, "From you we draw strength, from you we learn the deep meaning of the saying, 'In their deaths they commanded us life.' From you we draw the strength to move on, to look ahead, to live. Along with the pain and longing."

The president noted that this is the last ceremony he will take part in as president and added: "All we can give the boys who have paid with their lives and you - you who gave the most precious of all - is the memory. Their memory lives with us even after their departure. This is the last time I attend this ceremony as President of Israel. But I faithfully promise you that you will always and forever be in my heart, and in the heart of the people and in the heart of all the presidents that will come after me. May the memory of the beloved sons be engraved in our hearts forever."

The parents of two of the victims of the disaster told the president about their children, and how the memorials will be held this year, after many years and with the distance the coronavirus forces upon us.

"This year our theme is love from a distance, it is also related to coronavirus and the grandchildren we do not see, and also because our connection to Alon and our love for him, from a distance," the father of the late Vice Alon Babian told President Rivlin, adding: "Alon was a handsome boy, with bright blue eyes. Everywhere he went he brought his abilities to see his soldiers, to take care of them, and of us in the family. He knew each soldier, how he was doing, and what was going on at home. During his shiva his soldier told us about opening a road in Bofor, in the dark. Alon at the head motioned for everyone to sit down and for a soldier to approach him, and asked him 'tell me what's wrong with you? Are you with us? When did you go home?' He asked the guy to turn around to see the soldiers in a column behind him. The soldier said he saw dozens of eyes, and Alon told him 'you see them: they are all on my shoulders and yours, so wake up'. He was able to see a guy from 30 meters, he had the ability to see people."

Yael, the mother of the late Sergeant Gilad Mishaker, said: "I hear about the late Alon, and we are families who have known each other for 24 years, neighbors on Mount Herzl, and I think of Gilad. Apparently the guys who were in elite units had really select qualities. When he was 4 years old in a kindergarten in Musrara, he took under his care a child whose father was in prison. Gilad would visit the boy and ask to be with him. This responsibility accompanied him everywhere. Soldiers who served with him spoke of a sympathetic ear and a desire to help. A soldier who was afraid to go up for a first guard at the post said that without talking much, Gilad went up with him for a three-hour guard so that he would not be alone. This is Gilad. We also have a connection and acquaintance of the grandchildren, a connection between generations, sometimes they seem to know much more than we knew about him."