Along with bereavement, Israel's wars have generated many heroes and tales of heroism. But only 12 soldiers in Israel's War of Independence received the highest military decoration, the "Hero of Israel." Several weeks ago, another of them, Ben-Zion Leitner, passed away, receiving a full military funeral at the age of 85.
Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, decided to award the Hero of Israel medal to the 12 soldiers who performed the greatest acts of heroism during the war to establish the state. Leitner led an assault, under heavy fire, on an Iraqi police position in Al-Souedan. Yelling out battle cries, Leitner managed to paralyze the police position by throwing a grenade from his belt. He was seriously wounded in the attack.
The Hero of Israel award ceremony took place in Tel Aviv after the War of Independence. Only eight of the heroes were present at the ceremony, as four of them, Zvi Zibel, Zerubavel Horowitz, Yizhar Armoni and Emmanuel Landau, had been killed in battle. Seven of the heroes stood in the roll call area, while the eighth sat wounded near the stage. Over the years, additional heroes passed away: Emil Brig, Siman-Tov Ganeh, Yohai Ben-Nun and Arieh Atzmoni.
The Hero of Israel has since been replaced by the Medal of Valor as Israel's highest military decoration. Up until 1975, a total of 40 Medals of Valor were awarded, but none have been awarded since. Sixty-four years after the establishment of the state, only three of the original Hero of Israel recipients are still alive: Yair Racheli, Abraham Avigdorov and Ron Feller.
"The heroes of Israel are giants in our midst," Lt. Col. Oren Avraham, head of IDF policing and discipline, told Israel Hayom. "Awarding a medal is one of the few things the state can do to show appreciation to those who contributed to our establishment, and fought to preserve the state with self-sacrifice."