On the very last day of operation protective edge last summer, Gadi Yarkoni was badly hurt in a mortar attack and he lost both of his legs. But he didn’t give up. He continued fighting, for his recovery and health, and now for his beloved home. He was the economic coordinator of Kibbutz Nirim which is situated close to the Gaza border.
On the very last day of the operation, only around four hours before the final ceasefire went into effect, Hamas terrorists fired a hail of mortar shells into Nirim. The mortar shells struck Yarkoni and two of his close friends, Ze'ev Etzion (55) and Shahar Melamed (43) neither of which survived the attack. Yarkoni's injuries were initially so severe that the doctors were not sure he would survive.
"There was a Code Red alarm and I didn't make it to cover in time," Yarkoni said. "While I was lying on the ground, I could tell that my legs were injured; I simply shouted that I was hurt so that they would come take care of me. I was fully conscious." During the flight to the hospital he was in great pain. "It was a terrible flight; I was in excruciating pain. I didn't care about what happened to my legs; I just wanted something take away the terrible pain and make me feel nothing."
Yarkoni spent a total of six months in hospital while he underwent special treatment and rehabilitation. The doctors gave him prostheses on which he learned to walk again. It was a long painful process for the father of three to cope with the loss of his legs and that that of his two close friends. He also struggled with severe phantom pain. The love and support he received from his wife, his son and two daughters was immense.
At the beginning of this year, he announced that he will continue working for the kibbutz. He decided to run for mayor of the Eshkol Regional Council in the elections this past spring, with success! Garnering an absolute majority of 51 percent, the 47 year old Gadi Yarkoni defeated two other candidates. Yarkoni expressed a deep connection with the kibbutz having been born and raised there. "I was born on the kibbutz, my children live here, and I hope to die on the kibbutz at a ripe old age. There's nowhere else for me," he said.
During the election campaign, Yarkoni stated that he wants to strengthen the communities around Gaza. "We are one of the most important areas in the country, if not the most important. We are living near Gaza because of Zionism". Before the campaign he expressed that the residents of the kibbutz are exhausted. "The people here won't be able to withstand barrages of mortars and rockets again; we're too weak now," he explained. He predicted a mass exodus if the area suffers more attacks or does not undergo a recovery period. "Like me, the kibbutz needs to get back onto stable legs and race forward, with the crutches and with prostheses."
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Photo by courtesy of Yuval Chen