Photo: Haim Horenstein
Yishai Zimmerman
Photo: Haim Horenstein
The Israel Air Force's 84-year-old secret weapon
Yishai Zimmerman fought in a unit led by Ariel Sharon, received a Medal of Valor for singlehandedly battling the Egyptian army, stole a plane in Lebanon in 1982, but never managed to achieve his dream of becoming a combat pilot. Inspired by him, his son and three of his 15 grandchildren are taking to the skies instead.
He rubbed shoulders with IDF legends Meir Har-Zion and Ariel Sharon, received a medal of honor and fought in the 1967 Six-Day War, but 84-year-old Yishai Zimmerman never managed to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming an Israel Air Force pilot. However, his family have helped the decorated IDF veteran live out his dream vicariously — his son and two of his 15 grandchildren have already graduated from the Flight Academy and a third is about to begin the course.



"Normally, I am not an emotional person, but I feel very proud," said Zimmerman, ahead of his granddaughter’s recent graduation. "She really enjoyed it, it was hard for her, but she made it through."


"As a child I wanted to be a pilot, but the Air Force rejected me for medical reasons," he said. "After I was wounded in the Six-Day War, they told me that I was eligible for education benefits, so I told them I wanted a pilot's license.”


Yishai Zimmerman (Photo: Haim Horenstein)
Yishai Zimmerman (Photo: Haim Horenstein)


"After I provided them with medical documents proving that I could be in charge of aircraft maintenance, I was approved for the course as part of the rehabilitation program for IDF veterans," Zimmerman said.


Zimmerman, who lives on Kibbutz Ein Harod Ihud in northern Israel, was drafted to the IDF Armored Corps in 1952, and shortly afterwards joined the daring fighters of Commando Unit 101— founded and commanded by future prime minister Ariel Sharon. In 1955, Zimmerman was awarded the Medal of Valor after finding himself alone during the IDF's 1955 Operation Volcano against Egyptian military positions.


In 1982, during the First Lebanon War, Zimmerman caused a commotion when he, as he puts it, "borrowed" a Lebanese Cessna aircraft from a small airport in Beirut in order to fly back to Israel for a vacation. He landed the plane in Haifa and was later sent to military prison for a month, paid a fine of NIS 25,000 and was demoted by two ranks. UNdeterred by the discipline, Zimmerman continued to volunteer in the IDF as a tank commander until the age of 80.


“I have a son who’s a pilot, a grandson who’s a pilot, my granddaughter is graduating from a pilot course and now my third grandson is about to start a course as well,” Zimmerman said proudly, “It’s probably my wife’s genes.”


The grandson who is about to begin the pilots' course also lives on Kibbutz Ein Harod Ihud. 


“I dream of establishing a monument to the fallen soldiers of Ein Harod … ten IAF pilots hail from the kibbutz and three of them have been killed,” Zimmerman said.


Head of the Gilboa Regional Council, Oved Nur, said he’s extremely proud that so many of the council’s residents contributed to the security of the country.


“The values such as volunteering, leadership and love for our country are the basics that accompany the Gilboa youth when it comes to social engagement, contribution to the community and strengthening the solidarity in Israeli society,” he said.


פרסום ראשון: 12.28.18, 12:37
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