New presidential medal to honor civilian heroes of October 7

The award, to be presented in an official state ceremony, will also be bestowed on those who lost their lives trying to save others.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

President Isaac Herzog announced Tuesday the establishment of a new award that will honor civilian heroes of October 7, when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel and massacred 1,200 people, sparking the current war in Gaza.

The “President’s Medal for Civilian Valor” will be awarded yearly at an official state ceremony to those who are not members of the various security forces, yet act with exceptional bravery to save others.

Its inauguration is a direct consequence of the countless stories of unbelievable heroism that have been publicized ever since what Israelis have dubbed “the Black Sabbath,” the president said.

“Even when we were exposed to the boiling and shocking heart of terror and abysmal hatred that poured out upon us, we witnessed the greatness of spirit, heroism, resilience and compassion that built us as a people even in our darkest hours,” Herzog said. “The heroic powers of our people erupted in an astonishing way. These acts of heroism, which were accomplished by ordinary Israeli citizens, who acted in real time while actually risking their lives, out of a sense of unity of destiny and mutual responsibility, with the goal of saving human lives – they are the basis of my decision” to establish the award.

“As is written in Tractate Sanhedrin, ‘He who saves one life is considered as if he has saved an entire world,’” he concluded.

The award is not limited to those who survived their harrowing encounters with the terrorists in kibbutzim and towns, at the Nova dance rave and all along the roads between them. Those who lost their lives in their valiant attempt to help others can also be nominated, in a form that has already been set up online.

The nominating committee will be headed by Prof. Elyakim Rubinstein, a religious former vice-president of Israel’s Supreme Court and diplomat. Other members will be Liora Minka, former head of the Emunah movement and currently chair of the Camari Theater; Prof. Yifat Biton, president of the Ahava College; Maj. Gen. (res.) Moti Elmoz, former head of the IDF Personnel Division; Brig. Gen. (res.) Dr. Alaa Abu Rochen, former military secretary to the President; Prof. Muna Khoury, Vice President of the Hebrew University for Strategy and Diversity; and Eyal Gabbai, chairman of the Yad Ben Zvi Institute and former director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office.

The highest award the titular head of the country has bestowed on Israeli civilians to date is the Presidential Medal of Honor, given to those who have made an “outstanding contribution to the State of Israel or to humanity, through their talents, services, or in any other form.”

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It was inaugurated by then-president Shimon Peres in 2012, who honored 26 people prominent in the arts, politics, religion and social welfare over three years. It was then shelved until 2022, when Herzog restarted the custom. He has so far bestowed the medal on 16 individuals and one organization, the Kemach Foundation, which promotes employment in Israel’s haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector.