Israel's fallen heroines

Opinion: In a Ynet exclusive, First Lady Michal Herzog writes about the importance of honoring and remembering Israel's female fighters who sacrificed their lives to defend the nation, a task that no longer lies on the shoulders of men
Michal Herzog|
My favorite stories from when I was a kid were the ones my dad used to tell me right before bedtime. The stories about the Palmach - the elite fighting force of the Jewish community during the British Mandate.
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  • These stories featured Zahara Levitov, a Palmach fighter and Israel's first female pilot who fell in the War of Independence when she was 20 years old.
    2 View gallery
    From top left, clockwise: Hadar Cohen, Hadas Malka, Maya Kofstein, Keren Tendler
    Every year, on the eve of Israel's Memorial Day, as the flag is lowered to half-mast, I drift in my thoughts and in my heart back to those stories and to Zahara Levitov - was my childhood hero.
    Not only was Levitov the first female pilot in the Israeli Air Force, but she also participated in Palmach's operation named Night of the Bridges in 1946, when 11 bridges connecting Israeli territory to its neighbors were destroyed in order to prevent the British soldiers from receiving supplies.
    I had the chance to grow up on a heroic story that centers around a female hero. Just like Sarah Aaronsohn, who led an underground movement against the Ottoman rulers, and Hannah Szenes, who returned to Europe to fight the Nazis. We had all heard about these women as children.
    But in my family, the story of Levitov hit a little too close to home. My late father Shaul Afeq was also a member of the Palmach and also took part in the Night of the Bridges operation.
    My father, who later became a colonel in the IDF, died about a year and a half ago. But, until his last day he held an appreciation for his sister in arms Levitov, and for the bravery of those who completed that heroic operation.
    2 View gallery
    שיראל אבוקרט ז"ל ויזן פלאח
    שיראל אבוקרט ז"ל ויזן פלאח
    Shirel Abukarat and the 2nd Hadera terror attack victim Yezen Falah
    (Photo: Courtesy of Israel Border Police)
    As the years went on, women assumed more and more combat positions in the military and security agencies, adding to the stories of female heroism. Some, unfortunately, died in the line of duty.
    Even today, when Israel commemorates the memory of the fallen, the images of those female heroes are right in front of my eyes.
    Those images include: two female Border Police troops Hadar Cohen and Hadas Malka, who died in two different attacks near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem; Maya Kofstein who died at Beit Lid Junction in a double suicide bombing attack while trying to help the wounded; Keren Tendler who was Israel's first female helicopter flight mechanic and died during the 2006 Lebanon War; Shirel Abukarat who died in March in the Hadera terror attack.
    And many other female heroes who chose to serve in combat roles and ended up paying the ultimate price.
    The national task to protect Israel for a long time has not been lying exclusively on the shoulders of men. And on this Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror, which is a painful national day but also a day of great pride, my heart is with the memory of the fallen female heroes and their dear families.
    We owe them so much. They are the heroes of our time.

    Michal Herzog is an Israeli lawyer and the wife of President Isaac Herzog
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