Hero of Entebbe raid: my friend, Doron Almog

Doron Almog as soldierI am proud to call him my friend (and former business colleague). Doron Almog, a young Israeli soldier commanding a special IDF unit, was a hero of the daring Entebbe raid, which took place 40 years ago yesterday. Doron rose to Major General and head of the Southern Command. Today, he is once again performing heroic deeds. Here’s the story:

‘Entebbe is a moral imperative’: 40 years later, the rescue still informs its heroes’ choices

By Deborah Danan

Monday marks 40 years since Israel’s successful hostage-rescue mission at Entebbe airport in Uganda. But Maj. General Doron Almog’s memories of Operation Yonatan remain vivid — from the role a piece of chewing gum played in the bold undertaking to the pain of witnessing his friend Yoni Netanyahu, the hero after whom the operation is named, die.

Almog recalls sitting on the plane en route from Ben Gurion Airport to save the hostages alongside his subordinates; the IDF special unit forces he was commander of; and a Mercedes limousine that had been sprayed black to look like the one former Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, traveled in. The plan was to fake the volatile Ugandan despot’s return to Entebbe from a diplomatic trip in order to infiltrate the terminals and free the 106 people being held there. But there was one problem: The airborne limo was leaking gas.

“So we blocked the hole with chewing gum,” Almog says simply.

Almog describes the July 4, 1976 hostage-rescue mission as a “one-of-a-kind military operation.”  “But it also showed the commitment, the determination, and the dedication that the State of Israel has for any Jew, anywhere in the world, whose life is in danger,” he says. “This is what has characterized the Jewish people all through its history, that we are all responsible for one another.”

Almog took that lesson from Entebbe and turned it into his lifelong calling. Partnering with the Jewish National Fund, in 2003 Almog established Aleh-Negev Nahalat-Eran, a sprawling rehabilitative village for mentally and physically disabled adults.

Home to 220 residents and providing services to 12,000 outpatients annually, the 25-acre village empowers people with severe disabilities who may have otherwise spent their lives confined in cold and unloving institutions or hospitals to interact with the outside world and live lives of dignity. Almog calls Aleh-Negev a social Entebbe.

“The severely disabled, the elderly, the weakest members of our society — they are also the hostages of our society,” he says. “Entebbe is a moral imperative for the Jewish people, an example for how to fulfill our social duties not just our military duties.”

Almog fathered his own “hostage of society,” Eran, who was born brain damaged. Shortly after Aleh-Negev Nahalat-Eran was founded, his son passed away at the age of 23.

“He wore diapers, he never once said the word ‘abba’ and yet he was the greatest professor of my life,” Almog says. In April of this year, Almog was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in recognition of his contributions to society. The prize, Almog says, belongs to Eran for giving him the chance to change the lives of society’s weakest for the better.

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