January 28, 2020

Israel’s Entebbe Warrior

Eran and Doron

July 4 marked the 43rd anniversary of Israel’s famed Operation Entebbe. Most Israelis know the names of two of the Israeli soldiers involved in the daring mission that rescued 102 hostages at the Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The first is Yoni Netanyahu, brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was killed during the raid. The second is retired Maj. Gen. Doron Almog.

Almog was the first to land on the tarmac at Entebbe and the last to leave. He already had fought in ‎two wars and hunted down the terrorists behind the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics. However, he maintains the real Entebbe is the work he does every day in Israel, helping people with special needs.

The origins of Almog’s work began in 1975 when his brother Eran died after Eran’s tank was hit during the Yom Kippur War. Eran was left to bleed on the battlefield for a week. Almog was consumed with anger then guilt that nobody came to his brother’s aid.

Eleven years later, Almog and his wife, Didi, had a son they named Eran. Like all children, Almog said, Eran was an “extension of our ego.” But Eran was born with autism and severe handicaps, and could not do anything on his own. Almog despaired at finding a suitable place for his son. He quickly became schooled in Israel’s culture of shame regarding the mentally and physically challenged.

“We measure how strong a society we are only with how we treat our weakest link.” — Doron Almog

“We are taught, ‘all of Israel are responsible for one another,’ ” Almog said, “but I learned that this is not true.” The Almogs went from institution to institution, each one more horrific than the next. “We were accosted by the stink of feces and the look of terror on these disabled children’s faces,” he said.

So in 2003, Almog founded Aleh Negev, a village in southern Israel that provides residential care for children with complex disabilities. Almog added the village also serves the other “99 percent of society” — the able-bodied. “We measure how strong a society we are only with how we treat our weakest link,” he said. With 10,000 visitors every year, an army of volunteers and a preschool for non-disabled children in the heart of the village, Aleh Negev’s raison d’être is social responsibility. “You come to understand that [people with disabilities] are just like you and me and just as much a part of the society,” Almog said.

It’s been 12 years since Eran died from Castleman disease, but Almog said his son is everywhere. Addressing Eran, Almog said, “You, who were born with a broken body, who from the very beginning, your being was total goodness and vulnerability.” Eran became an “echo box” for Almog’s brother. “My son, too, was screaming for help, but he was still alive,” he said.

For Almog, Entebbe also served as a mirror for what a moral society should be. He said it’s not necessary, though, to fly 4,000 kilometers for the weakest members of society. Channeling his late son’s silent voice, Almog whispered, “Abba, you went to save hostages in Entebbe but I [have been] a hostage my whole life. Abba, will you do another Entebbe for me?”