Wounded veterans from the UK and Israel compete in Veterans games in Tel Aviv

By Rolene Marks

I am writing this article during quite a poignant week. If you are a keen observer of military history, the first days of June are hugely significant. This week, we commemorated 56 years since the start of the Six Day War in 1967 that changed the landscape of the Middle East. The 6th of June marks 41 years since the First Lebanon War “Operation Peace for Galilee” in 1982 and a day that changed the trajectory of the Second Word War as Allied forces troops landed on the Normandy beaches in France in 1944. D-Day. We salute the remarkable men and women of the armed forces.

Why is mentioning famous historical military operations relevant to the veterans games that this article is dedicated to? Because it is a reminder of the fighting and sacrifices made for our freedoms and democracy. We owe these brave soldiers a debt we can never repay. They fight with everything they have – and return bearing the wounds and scars of battle, some carried deep inside the recesses of their souls. We bear reminding of the enormous sacrifices made by our armed forces and whatever generation deployed to battle, they deserve our acknowledgement, respect and support.

Sporting Snapshot. Competing British and Israeli teams pose together at the Veteran Games in Tel Aviv. (Photo Tomer Appelbaum).

Last week, Beit Halochem Centres in Israel played host to the Veteran games, welcoming 60 wounded warriors from the United Kingdom and their families. Beit Halochem (House of the Warrior) is an extraordinary organization. The organization provides unique rehabilitation, sports and recreation centers serving disabled veterans and their families. Beit Halochem provides a place where the wounded undergo the various treatments, which they need for as long as they live. The centre emphasises sport as a rehabilitative tool along with a wide array of social and cultural programmes.

The four Beit Halochem Centres in Israel – including the state-of-the-art complex in Tel Aviv, played host to the warrior athletes and their families as they engaged in friendly competition in events that included swimming, shooting and CrossFit.

War to Tug-of-War. Families of wounded veterans join a spirited game of tug-of-war.

Ex-servicemen and women from across the UK armed forces who have lost limbs in combat and other veterans who are battling crippling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were selected to compete. PTSD is often endured in silence and sports have a therapeutic effect for many suffering from trauma. What made this competition particularly unique is that competitors did not have to reach a certain sporting standard to qualify. This means that no matter what their sporting level or experience, everyone could compete for medals.

This is the third year that this event took place, and presents a great opportunity not just for veterans to compete, but to bond with each other as well as take in the sights and sounds of Israel.

Grit and Determination. Ashley Hall in competition in the X-fit

The games were organized by Beit Halochem UK and the IDF Disabled Veterans Fund. Beit Halochem UK raises awareness and funds to help support Israel’s wounded veterans. Beit Halochem in Israel helps 51,000 wounded soldiers and victims of terror by offering them support for the rest of their lives.

 “Physical activity, camaraderie and the family all play a crucial role in the successful rehabilitation of injured soldiers and the Veteran Games put both front and centre,” said Veteran Games co-founders Andrew Wolfson and Spencer Gelding. “Medals are a great bonus, but our goal is to provide an environment for veterans to challenge themselves in a way that will provide lasting benefits, while building friendships with other heroes and their families with whom they have so much in common.”

Pulling their Weight. Once putting their lives on the line for their countries, wounded vets from the UK and Israel engage in friendly competition in Tel Aviv. 

These remarkable warriors are absolutely inspirational.

Ben Roberts, 42 a veteran from Essex who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan said, “I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and in 2010 was diagnosed with Combat Stress Insomnia. I took part in the games last year and they have inspired me, shown me that I have a purpose and I have worth and that there are people out there that are willing to support us and show us British veterans that we can achieve things even with mental health. The games for me personally were a major spiritual level as well and the energy was just amazing here and it has helped me through the year where we are today”

Cheered on by the Competition. A British athlete is cheered on by Israeli staff and athletes during the third Veterans Games in Tel Aviv on May 29, 2023. (Courtesy Beit HaLohem UK)

Organizers ensured that families were front and centre and they stood on the sidelines and cheered as their loved ones tested their mettle in friendly competition. Family members often struggle when an injured veteran returns back home and the role they play in their loved one’s recovery is crucial. To keep children entertained, a soccer camp is simultaneously held. Nothing builds bonds quite like sports!

Sight to Behold. Craig Lundberg receiving a swimming medal in the visually impaired category

Craig Lundberg 37, was completely blinded after being hit by two rocket-propelled grenades that are usually used for targeting helicopters or armored vehicles while on his second tour of Iraq in 2007. “It feels amazing to have my family along that they can see no matter what life throws at you, you can focus and get around it. I am really honored to be here and I competed in CrossFit and swimming and won a silver medal. It wasn’t expected because there was some great competition. For the lifting of weights and running, my son stood at one end my partner at the other and called to me so I could hear and get from point A to point B so it was a real family event. It is massively important that they are involved. Every day the family live with the sacrifice of living with a blind partner which isn’t the easiest sometimes, so to have them here giving support has been top notch.”

Opening Ceremony. A veteran of Afghanistan, cabinet minister for Veterans Affairs, Johnny Mercer MP addressing the opening ceremony of the Veteran Games.

Accompanying the UK delegation was Minister for Veteran’s Affairs, Johnny Mercer. MP Mercer served in the Royal Artillery and retired in December 2013 with the rank of captain.  “We traditionally look at Israel and certainly the certainly the wealth of data you have accumulated over years of experience. I’m trying to make the UK the best country in the world to be a veteran and to do that we need to work with our friends and partners to understand what they’re doing that works really well, so that we can replicate that in the UK.” Mercer added that “it’s amazing to be out here in Israel. There’s nothing quite like an Israeli welcome, seeing the Veteran Games and using the power of sports as a vehicle for recovery. It’s extraordinary.”

Brother-in Arms. From different countries, these veterans share a bond understanding and camaraderie.

The games were timed to coincide with half-term (semester) vacation in the United Kingdom and the group had the chance to visit historical sites in Jerusalem, experience the healing powers of the Dead Sea and enjoy culinary and even graffiti tours in Tel Aviv.

Top Training. Veterans are seen ahead of the Veteran Games in Israel. (photo credit: Courtesy of The Veteran Games)

The bonds forged between these exceptional warriors from the United Kingdom and Israel will last a lifetime.

We could not be more proud to salute them. 

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).