US-born lone soldier wins leadership prize for actions in 2014 Gaza conflict

Staff Sgt. (res.) Sahar Elbaz receives Bonei Zion award for saving unit after killing 4 Hamas fighters during firefight in southern Gaza Strip

Staff Sgt. (res.) Sahar Elbaz received the Bonei Zion Prize from Nefesh B'Nefesh  in the IDF and National Service Young Leadership category on May 23, 2016 in a Knesset ceremony.  (Screenshot/Channel 10)
Staff Sgt. (res.) Sahar Elbaz received the Bonei Zion Prize from Nefesh B'Nefesh in the IDF and National Service Young Leadership category on May 23, 2016 in a Knesset ceremony. (Screenshot/Channel 10)

An American lone soldier in the Israel Defense Forces who killed four Hamas fighters during a tunnel-destroying mission in Operation Protective Edge nearly two years ago was awarded a prize for his service from an aliya organization this week.

Staff Sgt. (res.) Sahar Elbaz, from the Givati Brigade received the Sylvan Adams Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize worth $10,000 in the IDF and National Service Young Leadership Award category in a Knesset ceremony on Monday.

Prizes were also awarded to five other immigrants to Israel in other categories.

Elbaz, originally from California, immigrated to Israel in 2012 before his 18th birthday, later joining the IDF and serving as a combat soldier in the Rimon unit in the Givati Brigade.

During the 2014 Gaza war, Elbaz was in the Rafah area in the Gaza Strip with his unit when the building he and his fellow soldiers were in came under attack by five Hamas fighters armed with assault rifles and grenades. The soldiers were serving as lookout for colleagues who were on a mission to destroy Hamas-built tunnels.

The commander of Elbaz’s unit ordered his soldiers to take cover in the face of the attack, but Elbaz ignored the order and, pressed against the building’s wall for cover, returned fire, killing four of the Hamas fighters. The fifth was killed by another soldier when he ran into a nearby mosque for cover.

Elbaz described hair-raising moments during the firefight that including the terrorists approach to just five or six meters from where he was, and his weapon jamming.

“As I was responding to the fire, the weapon jammed, I was able to overcome that due to training and practice, I continued firing and killed four terrorists,” he told Channel 10 on Tuesday.

“I had eye contact with one of the terrorists and his look told me – ‘it’s either you or me,'” Elbaz told his friends, according to a Ynet report last year. “The thought that went through my mind was that if I don’t kill them – they’ll kill me.”

“I handled the incident like I was supposed to, like I was taught to. Until the moment of truth, you don’t know if you’re built for this sort of stuff, and I proved it to myself when I made aliyah and I did it for the good of the country and my unit,” Elbaz told Channel 10.

Last year, Elbaz was one of only five soldiers to receive the chief of staff’s citation in Operation Protective Edge, which was bestowed upon him for his “bravery, resourcefulness and fortitude.”

The other winners of the Bonei Zion Prize were:

Howard (Chaim) Cedar, a Safra Distinguished professor at the Department of Developmental Biology and Cancer Research at Hebrew University who has made pioneering contributions in the field of genetics, was awarded in the Science and Medicine category. He made aliyah in 1973 from the United States.

Scott Tobin, general partner at Battery Ventures, where he leads investments in Israel, the United States and Europe as a world’s top venture capitalist, was awarded in the Entrepreneurship and Technology category. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and officially made aliyah from the United States in 2011.

Dr. Rachel Levmore, the founder and director of the Agunah & Get-Refusal Prevention Project at the International Young Israel Movement and the Jewish Agency for Israel, and a rabbinical court advocate, was awarded in the Community and Non-Profit category. Levmore revolutionized Israeli society’s view on women’s halachic personal status by participating in the authorship of the Israeli reciprocal halachic prenuptial “Agreement for Mutual Respect” in order to prevent the refusal of a Jewish divorce, or get. She made aliyah in 1976 from the United States.

Barbara Levin, founder of the pluralist Tali school system featuring 96 schools, 134 nursery classes and some 35,000 pupils, was awarded in the Education category. She made aliyah in 1969 from the United States.

Estelle Friedman, director of production for Israel Education Television, where generations of Israelis have acquired the basics of the English, Hebrew and Arabic languages and basic concepts of Judaism, was awarded in the Culture, Sports and Arts category. She made aliyah from the United States in 1964.

In addition, a Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded to Moshe Arens, a former foreign minister, defense minister and Israeli ambassador to the United States, for his contribution to shaping Israel through diplomacy and dedicated hasbarah, or public relations. Arens made aliyah from the United States in 1948.

The recipients of the Bonei Zion Prize at the Knesset, May 23, 2016. (Courtesy)
The recipients of the Bonei Zion Prize at the Knesset, May 23, 2016. (Courtesy)

The panel of judges included Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the Israeli military’s former chief of staff; Colette Avital, a former Israeli diplomat and Knesset member; David Gerstein, an internationally renowned painter and sculptor; Barbara Goldstein, the deputy executive director of Hadassah in Israel; Yonatan Halevy, director general of Shaare Zedek Medical Center; Steve Linde, the then editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post; Gabriela Shalev, president of the Higher Academic Council and dean of the law school at Ono Academic College; Rabbi Berel Wein, founder and director of The Destiny Foundation; and Yael Arad, the first Israeli to win an Olympic medal.

Nefesh B’Nefesh is a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 to encourage and facilitate the aliyah process for Jews from North America and the United Kingdom.

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