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Yoni Netanyahu - Short Biography

Yoni, 9 years old

When Yoni was born on March 13, 1946 in New York City, his parents, Benzion and Cela, were working for the creation of a Jewish State on behalf of the New Zionist Organization. Benzion came to the U.S. from Israel as a member of a delegation headed by V. Jabotinsky, the founder and head of the NZO, and shortly after the latter’s death assumed the leadership of the organization in America. Yoni’s grandparents on his father’s side, Nathan and Sarah Mileikowsky, settled in Palestine in 1920, when their eldest son Benzion was ten years old. Rabbi Nathan Mileikowsky was a famed orator who traveled from the the far reaches of Siberia to the heart of the United States, preaching tirelessly for the Zionist cause. Yoni’s grandparents on his mother’s side, Benjamin and Hannah-Malkah Segal, came to Palestine from the United States in 1911, a year before Yoni’s mother was born. They raised their family in Petah Tikvah, one of the earliest of the new Jewish settlements.

Shortly after Yoni turned two, his parents returned to their homeland, now the newly created state of Israel. Yoni’s father assumed the editorship of the first general Hebrew Encyclopedia while pursuing, from time to time, his researches on the history of the Jews in the Middle Ages. At first the family lived in Talpiot, a southern neighborhood of Jerusalem, where Yoni’s brothers Benjamin (Bibi) and Iddo were born. In 1955 the family moved to their permanent home in the Katamon district of Jerusalem. There Yoni attended the local school “Darom”.

In 1957 the family left for more than a year and a half to the U.S., where Yoni’s father could do further historical research. After their return to Jerusalem in 1959, Yoni went to High School at the Hebrew Gymnasium. Yoni was a brilliant student, excelling both in academic work and in sports. He was also a very active troop leader in the Scouts. When he was in the 11th grade, he was elected president of the student council of the Gymnasium. In the middle of the school year, however, Yoni and his family left Israel again for his father’s continuing historical work. They settled in Elkins Park, a suburb of Philadelphia, where Prof. Netanyahu taught at Dropsie College, a school of higher learning for Jewish studies.

Yoni attended school at Cheltenham High School. Despite the difficulties he faced with the new language and environment, he quickly excelled in his studies. During the summer of 1963, he joined some of his friends from Israel, who came to New Hampshire to work as counsellors at a Young Judea camp.

Enlistment in the Israeli army

In June 1964, following his graduation, Yoni returned to Israel. His family was to remain in America for the coming years, frequently visiting Israel. Upon being drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces for his obligatory military service, Yoni volunteered for the paratroopers. He proved to be a superb soldier, undergoing the gruelling training sessions with relative ease and excelling in all the various courses. He was sent to Officers’ Training School, from which he graduated first in his class. Yoni then became a platoon commander in the paratroopers. With the growing escalation of terrorist attacks from across the borders, he saw action in a retaliatory raid on a PLO stronghold in the West Bank, then held by Jordan.

In January 31, 1967 Yoni was discharged. He had already been accepted to Harvard University for the fall of 1967, and with time on his hands now, he was brushing up on his studies and reading works of literature and philosophy.

Yoni's left arm wounded

In May of 1967 dramatic events were unfolding in the Middle East. Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships and moved its army into the Sinai Desert. The Arab world openly declared its intention to destroy the state of Israel. War was imminent, and Yoni, along with numerous other reservists, was mobilized. When war finally broke out on June 5, Yoni took part in the fierce and pivotal battle of Um Katef at the Sinai. A few days later he participated in battles on the Golan Heights. On the last day of the war he was wounded in his arm, while reaching out to help a wounded comrade. He managed to crawl back to the Israeli lines, and upon reaching them, fainted. Yoni was evacuated, first to the rear, and then to Safed Hospital, where he was operated on. A few days later he underwent further surgery at Rambam Hospital in Haifa. His left elbow remained permanently disabled.

Towards the end of the summer, and before leaving for Harvard, Yoni married his long-time girl-friend Tuti. The ceremony was held at the newly liberated amphitheatre of the Hebrew University at Mount Scopus, which overlooks the Judean Desert. The newly wed couple left shortly afterwards for Boston.

While Yoni enjoyed his studies at Harvard, in which he excelled, he felt increasingly that his place was not there. Israel was in the midst of fighting a “War of Attrition” against Egypt and Jordan and of combating terrorism in its towns and cities. At such a time, Yoni believed, he should be in his homeland, near the site of battle. And so in the summer of 1968, he and Tuti returned to Israel. They enrolled at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where Yoni studied mathematics and philosophy.

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