A LEGEND IN HIS TIME

by Zamir Assor

“In the fields in which he walked the cotton has long been picked; An old pipe drops its water on the saturated earth. A towering Eucalyptus sways its uppermost branches. Here walked a hero, his breath soft, his body steel alloy, his embrace iron pincers. A fallen leaf announces the coming of autumn".

The life and passing of major Uri Azulai is interwoven more than any other, into the tragic story of Kiryat Shmona.
Born in Kiryat Shmona, where he played, studied and grew into a man, only to fall in mission to defend its peace and security. The same thread which had woven portions of his life was severed exactly where it began, precisely over the spot where he was born, a few steps away from his parent's home, where that same bitter night they heard the roar of the helicopters, the cries of the wounded and were unaware that their son had fallen.

Uri Azulai was born in the autumn of 1970 in Kiryat Shmona. A twin brother to Orli and the fourth of ten children, born to Moshe and Matilda Azulai. For their parent’s, the birth of the twins was a consolation. Only a year had passed since the death of their young son, yaacov, who had succumbed to a fatal illness, and now, once again, the family's home was filled with a warm light.

Kiryat Shmona in the 1970’s was a forgotten and desolate development town. To the economical problem that plagued its residents in their day-to-day living were added the troubling security problems as well. The massive shelling by Fatah forces who controlled Southern Lebanon resulted in the mass exodus of many of Kiryat Shmona Residents. Those who stayed would grit their teeth and face a most difficult of realities and often a most dangerous.

As a child, Uri was remarkable in his ingenuousness and his modesty. As a son in a family of 11 members he learned to make do with the minimum and to make the most of what he had. His father, Moshe, was a special role model for him throughout his life. Moshe, who immigrated from Morocco in the 1950’s and was drafted into parachute unit, who fought and was wounded in the battle to free Jerusalem, ensured that his children were instilled with love for country and love for their fellow man. Uri, who continued in his ways, reflected these same values on his soldiers, who came to adore him as he had adored his father in his childhood.

In his youth, Uri began to exhibit the same character traits for which he received unprecedented admiration from his commanding officers and soldiers alike. His determinations to perform the impossible, his cleverness, his courage and sacrifice, were a result of the solid strengthening that matured when he reached the age of the draft. Those who knew him in his youth willingly tell of the boy who dedicated endless days to developing of both his body and his mind, where the perfect combination of the two allowed him excel in both areas.

In the summer of 1988 Uri was drafted into the Israeli army. In the beginning he was accepted to a fighter pilot's course, but as soon as was notified that he had been accepted to the top Israeli commando unit, he left the pilot's course and joined the "Unit” deciding instead to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground.

Uri’s activities during his military service in the top Commando Unit is secret and classified information. The Uri of that period was transformed from cheery, mischievous prankster to an introverted, secretive type, who could not be enticed to speak of his army service and would not volunteer any details of his activities. After his death, his friends would relate that even within this elite unit, Uri succeeded in distinguishing himself with his great strength, his cleverness and his determination to perform the impossible in the most successful manner. Before the end of his regular army service, Uri was sent to an officer's course and returned to his unit as a team commander.

During this same period the Gaza Strip began boil. Hundreds of wanted terrorists from Muslim fanatical organizations brought their violent behavior to the Gaza Strip.

Dozens of residents were murdered on the suspicion of collaborating with Israel, dozens of Israelis murdered in armed terrorist attacks. Uri understood that most of the terrorist activity was taking place in the Strip and despite his affection for his commando unit, he left them and joined the “Samson Unit" as company commander (a unit where soldiers disguised themselves as locals and infiltrated the Arab towns in Gaza Strip).

From activities of this unit, which was responsible for the arrest and annihilation of dozens of murderers and the eradication of terrorism from Gaza Strip, many legends have been woven, most of them, wondrously, completely true. The unit members, who would mingle with the local population, changing disguises and familiarizing themselves well with local leaders, undermined the relative security enjoyed by the terrorists and made clear that the arm of the Israeli army is long enough to arrest or annihilate even in crowded population in which these terrorists Attempted to take refuge.
A recent film produced by the British B.B.C on the "Samson" unit revealed only the tip of this remarkable iceberg and its methods of action, and was broadcast all over the western world.

His service in the "Samson" unit reveals another fact of Uri's personality: a daring commander who took care of his persons, stood at their head and taught them humanity and fair play towards the local Arab population. Here, again, he distinguished himself with his talents, his ingenuity and determination to achieve everything that appeared impossible.
With the Israeli evacuation of the Gaza Strip, the "Samson" unit was disbanded. Uri whose name was proclaimed as an excellent officer and who received the admiration of the highest ranks, volunteered for service as a parachute company commander. He fulfilled this role on three consecutive occasions until the last time, where he met his death.

In newspaper interviews, soldiers relate in admiration of how Uri contributed three of his paycheques to the establishment of recreational center for his persons. The soldiers, who had heard of his colorful past, came to admire and respect him as a father, and he reflected this back to them in his paternal concern, in his ability to listen, to help and to worry about their welfare. Under his expert command, his parachute company performed missions at the expert level of specialized commandos.

Together with his service in the parachutists, Uri prepared to leave for a specialized course in the USA on terrorism, a continuation of the long-term course in which he participated during his activities in the “Samson” unit. On the completion of this specialized course Uri was meant to join the "Horizon" program, intended for excelling officers, to begin academic studies on behalf of Israeli army and return to the ranks of senior officers.

Uri knew pleasure in his personnel life as well. He was about marry sal'it and to begin raising a family in Israel. As one who grew up in a family blessed with many children, Uri wanted a large family as well, to live on a farm in the Negev and to work in agriculture. His death cut his dream short.


 

On Friday, October 25, 1996, while setting out on an ambush near the Lebanese town of Aishiyah, one of his persons trod on a tripwire, which triggered a chain of violent explosions. Uri Azulai and his radioman, Tom Karin, who were at the front of the line, were hit from behind and killed on the spot. Three other soldiers were hit as well, one of them gravely wounded.

The morning of that same Friday, officers of the Israeli army knocked on the door of the home of Moshe and Matilda Azulai and notified them of the tragic news. From that day on, countless visitors made their way to the Azulai home to offer their condolences, even as their hearts refused to comprehend.

The Azulai family has received hundreds of letters since Uri's death. Most of the writers were people who had never met Uri in their lives, but had come to know and admire him from articles published in the national press.
We, who knew Uri and adored him, know the extent of our loss, of lof the nation and the state of Israel, which he served in good faith.

We, who loved him, know how much he loved us in return and appreciated our love.
We, who benefited from his nurturing, consider it an honor to establish “Bet Kneset” and this the way we would like to memorialize a man who was a legend.

MAY HIS SOUL BE BLESSED

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