Israel Prize for heroism goes to two civilians who rescued dozens at Kibbutz Be’eri

Education minister names ‘Team Elhanan’ survivors as winners of one-off award, with cancelation of regular categories mired in controversy

Illustrative: Houses destroyed when Hamas terrorists infiltrated Kibbutz Be'eri on October 7, seen on October 25, 2023. (Edi Israel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Houses destroyed when Hamas terrorists infiltrated Kibbutz Be'eri on October 7, seen on October 25, 2023. (Edi Israel/Flash90)

The special 2024 Israel Prize for “Civilian Heroism” will be awarded to Menachem Kalmanson and Itiel Zohar, of the West Bank settlement of Otniel, for their bravery in battle outside the Gaza Strip on October 7, Education Minister Yoav Kisch announced Tuesday.

“Despite being told that they were not needed, they arrived at Kibbutz Be’eri and repeatedly entered the besieged kibbutz over the course of a number of hours, and in doing so, saved dozens of the residents of the kibbutz,” Kisch wrote on X.

“We are a nation of heroes; the winners are part of a long line of heroes who have risked their lies for the nation and its country, and we mustn’t forget it,” added the minister.

On October 7, as thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel, where they would kill nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and take 253 hostages, Menachem Kalmanson and his brother Elhanan left their homes in Otniel and traveled to Be’eri, along with their nephew Zohar, to fend off the assailants.

In the last house they entered, in the early hours of October 8, a terrorist shot and killed Elhanan. The three have become known as “Team Elhanan.”

Shlomit, widow of Elhanan Kalmanson, said of the decision to give her late husband’s brother and nephew the award: “I received the notification with mixed feelings — excitement, longing, and pride. Elhanan loved the country and he so deserves this prize.


“It’s his place in the nation of Israel’s chain of generations. On a personal level, he’s so missed,” the Ynet news site quoted the widow as saying.

The Israel Prize this year is mired in controversy.

In mid-February, the government announced that the traditional categories for the prize, the country’s highest civilian honor, would be canceled for 2024, and two new categories related to the ongoing war against Hamas in Gaza would be awarded instead — “Societal Responsibility” for civic efforts and volunteering, and “Citizen Heroism” for civilian acts of bravery.

Michal Herzog writes in a Torah scroll in memory of Elhanan Kalmanson in Jerusalem, Israel on December 3, 2023. (Courtesy of the Torah Scroll of the People of Israel)

The prize will be awarded to six individuals whose actions “inspired unity and kindness, demonstrated extraordinary bravery, inspired enormous hope in Israel and contributed to the recovery after the terrible upheaval we experienced on October 7,” the statement said at the time.

A report by the Maariv news outlet at the end of February alleged that Kisch had made the change to avoid bestowing the Entrepreneurship Award on the leading candidate, businessman Eyal Waldman, a prominent critic of the government’s judicial overhaul agenda.

Eyal Waldman speaks in the Knesset Science Committee in Jerusalem, March 3, 2024, breaking down when talking about his daughter, who was murdered by Hamas on October 7. (Noam Moskowitz/Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

Waldman, whose daughter Danielle was murdered by Hamas terrorists at the Supernova rave massacre on October 7, alleged during a Knesset Science Committee hearing earlier this month that Kisch and close associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had pressured the relevant Israel Prize selection committee to change its decision to award him the honor.

Last Thursday, the High Court of Justice gave Kisch and the government one week to respond to petitions demanding the reversal of the decision to drastically pare down the Israel Prize for 2024.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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