Para-athlete who survived 2002 terror attack to light torch on Independence Day

Asael Shabo’s mother and 3 brothers were killed in shooting in which he lost part of his leg; ‘Since I was told, I’m euphoric, in a bit of shock,’ he says of honor

Asael Shabo speaks to Channel 12 news, April 14, 2022. (Screenshot: Channel 12)
Asael Shabo speaks to Channel 12 news, April 14, 2022. (Screenshot: Channel 12)

Asael Shabo, who survived a terror attack two decades ago in which his mother and three siblings were killed, will be granted the honor of lighting a torch at the official state Independence Day ceremony next month.

Shabo was nine-years-old when he was shot and seriously hurt in the June 20, 2002, attack in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, losing part of his right leg.

“I was surprised. I was in the middle of changing the diaper of my three-week-old newborn,” Shabo, who now lives in the central city of Ramat Gan, told Channel 12 news on Thursday.

“It’s very exciting. Since I was told I’m euphoric, in a bit of shock, I’m not quite digesting it yet.”

Lighting a torch on Independence Day is considered one of the highest honors in the state and is awarded to a select few each year.

“I am an amputee on my right leg, and following the injury in which my three brothers and my mother were also killed, I took up sports for rehabilitation,” Shabo said.

“Once I realized that I really like it and that it gives me a lot of strength, I made sport a very big part of my life. I was a professional swimmer for eight years, and I have been playing wheelchair basketball for 11 years,” he added.

Shabo said he takes the memory of the terror attack with him everywhere.

“I have no choice. Every time I take the crutches or the prosthetic leg, this event is with me. It goes with me to every game. Every tournament in which I represent the country, I first say, ‘Mom, this is for you,'” he told the network.

“It is a great source of pride for me to be a representative of the survivors of terror” at the ceremony, he said.

Shabo will join 11 others who will be lighting torches, including the commander of the Yamam police counter-terrorism unit, who will reportedly show up in disguise.

The ceremony, marking Israel’s 74th Independence Day, is slated to take place on May 4.

Shira Isakov and Adi Guzi light a torch during the 73rd anniversary Independence Day ceremony, held at Mount Herzl, Jerusalem on April 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Culture and Sport Minister Chili Tropper announced Wednesday that the central Independence Day ceremony will not include a fireworks display, due to concerns over the impact they have on military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The ceremony will emphasize the common good,” Tropper said, declaring that “the torch-lighting ceremony belongs to everyone, in every political situation.”

This year’s festivities will not include an address from the prime minister — a return to the previous custom, which had recently been changed under former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will attend, but won’t speak.

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