Growing up in Ashkelon, a frequent target of rocket attacks from Gaza, Yoni Asraf knew that at age 18 he would join the Israel Defense Forces for at least three years of mandatory service. What he could not have known was that in 2006 he would receive Israel’s coveted Medal of Courage for his bravery under fire while fighting in the Second Lebanon War.
Now 29 and a lawyer living and working in Tel Aviv, Asraf recently visited Monmouth County where he told his story to an audience of more than 50 enthralled listeners. The event, sponsored by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, was held Sept. 11 at the Manalapan home of Jay and Sylvia Zimmet.
Wearing his Army sergeant’s uniform — he is still a member of the active reserve — Asraf described a fierce firefight that took place in Maroun al-Ras in Lebanon on July 20, 2006.
“My unit, part of a reconnaissance battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade, was ordered to gather intelligence from the vantage of a house in an area we believed to be unoccupied,” he said.
Instead, it turned out to be under attack by more than 30 enemy combatants. Asraf said the officer in charge and one other soldier had gone off to reconnoiter another house and encountered heavy fire. Seizing the initiative, Asraf assumed command of the remaining five soldiers.
When the house they were in started to burn after being struck by an anti-tank missile, Asraf’s band crowded into a small bathroom stall, where he set up a rotation. “We took turns breathing fresh air at the window, guarding the entrance, and returning enemy fire,” he said.
After three hours, the company commander radioed an order to evacuate to another house less than half a mile away, but through an obstacle course of rubble and bullets.
Asraf said he was the last to leave the burning house, and he was slowed down by the need to help a comrade with a wounded leg.
Nevertheless, along the way, he was alert enough to check out the body of a fallen terrorist and to take a live radio that later proved invaluable in helping the Israeli forces locate the enemy’s position. Asraf’s medal citation credits the captured radio as being a key to the Israelis’ victory in the battle.
Nor was this the end to Asraf’s heroism. Less than three weeks later, on Aug. 8, while the team was fighting in Bint-Jbel, one of Asraf’s fellow soldiers was badly injured. Asraf volunteered to stanch the bleeding. All the while, he was under fire and at great risk.
On that mission, Asraf said, another of his comrades was shot and killed instantaneously.
“We only use a small percentage of our overall might,” Asraf told his listeners. “We restrain ourselves because we don’t want to kill civilians.”
Asraf praised the FIDF for the help it provides to Israeli military personnel — not with weapons or operational systems, but by supporting military personnel with social, educational, cultural, and recreational programs.
In his case, he said, an FIDF Impact! scholarship made it possible for him to study law and business at the university level. “My family never could have afforded to send me,” said Asraf, “but FIDF made it possible.”
Howard Gases, director of FIDF’s New Jersey chapter, urged the Monmouth County cohort attending the event to donate to the Impact! program, the Lone Soldiers program, and the Spirit Program. FIDF makes it possible for “lone soldiers” — IDF members with no immediate family living in Israel — to return home for a visit, said Gases. It also sets up rest and recreation centers in Israel where IDF personnel can take a respite from the battlefield.
For information, visit fidf.org.