Thirty-five years ago today (July 4, 1976), an Air France flight was hijacked and diverted to Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Shortly after landing, all of the non-Jewish passengers were released and the remaining Jewish passengers were held hostage. One week after the hijacking, I commanded the first task force to land in Entebbe as part of a daring mission that freed 105 hostages.
Faced with immense challenges, we pulled off a thrilling (yet bittersweet) victory. At the time, we saw the feat as an illustration of the strength and vitality of the Israeli army and the Jewish spirit. Upon reflection (so many years later), it is clear that it also highlighted the importance of standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.
It should be noted that my participation in Entebbe was voluntary. After my brother, Eran, was killed in the Yom Kippur war (he was injured in the Golan Heights and bled to death after sitting untreated for seven days), I was given the choice of leaving my combat unit as a bereaved soldier. However, I chose to remain in the military in order to change the ethos of the IDF and make absolutely sure that no soldier would ever be left behind again.
It was this philosophy that drove me to participate in the Entebbe raid and numerous other military operations throughout my career and, ultimately, set the stage for the next phase of my adult life.
After our son was born – and we named him Eran after my late brother – he was diagnosed with severe physical and cognitive disabilities. In an instant, my world was turned upside down. At first, I had a very hard time coming to terms with the fact that my beloved son would never speak or hold down a job, and would always be dependent on others to provide his every need. But my "no man left behind" philosophy prevailed, and I found the strength to be the father that Eran needed me to be.
In fact, my time with Eran allowed me to develop my philosophy even further, and I became committed to changing the way society views the disabled. I realized that it is not enough to make sure that these wonderful children don't get left behind. We must ensure that they are given every opportunity to excel and reach their greatest potentials.
For the Entebbe raid, our IDF battalions travelled 2,500 miles to fight for those who could not fight for themselves. It is time for us to harness that bravery, resolve and dedication to our fellow men, to turn our sights inward and focus on the urgent rescue missions in our ownneighborhoods.
These "hostages" are in very real danger every day of their lives and are often abandoned. They are the weakest members of our society and are completely dependent on the kindness of others. We don't need to launch a complex tactical mission to set them free. We simply need to wrap them in love and help them integrate into our social fabric.
Make no mistake: our commitment to care for the disabled members of society remains immeasurably more difficult than any military campaign I have ever led. But we must stand up and fight to provide them with the care that they deserve. Because, in the end, our generation will be judged by how well we complete this mission.
(Major General (Res.) Doron Almog is also the founder and Chairman of Aleh Negev www.aleh.org. – Nahalat Eran, a village named in memory of his son, that provides a continuum of residential care for children with severe disabilities as they grow from adolescents into young adults).