Twelve Years After the Helicopter Disaster

Date: 19/02/2009, 3:37 PM     Author: Dikla Schneider

12 years after one of the worst military catastrophes in the history of IDF (Zahal) and the State of Israel, a memorial ceremony for the 73 fallen of the Helicopter Disaster was held on Wednesday (Jan. 18) at Kibbutz Dafna in the Northern Israel. The ceremony was held only a few kilometers from the place at which, on February 4th 1997, two IAF Sikorsky CH-53 helicopters collided when they were on their way to Lebanon, and left 73 soldiers dead. The remorse, the pain and the memory became an inseparable part of the national experience and especially of the numerous bereaved families who came, as they do every year, to remember the fallen of the aerial disaster.

The ceremony was attended by the Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the Minister of Defense, Mr. Ehud Barak, the former Minister of Defense, Mr. Yitzhak Mordechai, IDF (Zahal) Major Generals, Corps Head Officers, Division Commanders and members of the bereaved families. “Although time does not stand still but moves on while we are living, it is as if it was yesterday. The hand of fate brought together the two helicopters, fighters and commanders from all edges of the country. What they all had in common was the feeling of dedication, of belonging and of responsibility for their people and their country,” said the Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, in his speech. “Their collapse taught us in the IDF (Zahal) – and in all of Israel– about the power of togetherness and the special, hurtful and terrible way that it shows in the State of Israel.”

During the ceremony, which was accompanied by the songs singer Shai Gabso, along with the IDF (Zahal) orchestra, letters that the soldiers wrote before the collision were read aloud, in addition to emotional texts that the family and friends of the fallen wrote after the disaster; there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience. Alona Halper, mother of Idan who was killed in the Helicopter Disaster, spoke in the name of the bereaved families; “the reality is difficult and the memories hurt. Death is something final and factual, but grief is the opposite-it is endless. It seems as though life goes on, but inside we always have this terrible pain, the realization that they will not return to life. We lost you, beloved ones, 12 years ago, 12 years of uninterrupted pondering. Who are you today? What would you be like? What would you do?,” said Halper.

The Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak, also shared the sorrow of the families. “My words cannot be consolation– how could a mortal tongue comprehend your sorrow and understand your feelings of loss? Every visitor of this grand memorial site sees names, reads details– he is momentarily shocked, he stops, bows his head and turns to leave. But you, family members, constantly see a film of memories right before your eyes.” The Minister of Defense ended his speech in the name of peace. “The heavy price that we were asked to pay for the security of Israel, the loss and the grief, command us to remove every obstacle and to tear down every barrier on the road to peace.”

“One of our duties is to do everything in order to prevent the loss of life due to accidents, and to find a way the fulfill the IDF (Zahal)’s mission, with utmost precision, prioritizing the issue of security, and protecting our soldiers who go on missions every day, also now,” concluded the Chief of the General Staff, who also expressed the IDF (Zahal)’s obligation to bring Gilad Shalit and the other missing IDF (Zahal) soldiers back home.