Yossef Mtanes' decision to be one of the torch lighters at the April 19 opening celebration of Israel's 62 Independence Day commemorations was not an easy one, writes Judith Sudilovsky of Catholic News Service.
An 82-year-old Maronite Catholic, Mtanes was born in the northern village of Biram, which was destroyed during Israel's 1948 war of independence.
Israel wanted to honor Mtanes for his actions as a 19-year-old, when he worked in the offices in the then-British-run refinery. When a riot broke out in November, 1947, Mtanes hid his six Jewish co-workers, protecting them from injury and possible death. Since then, he also has worked to ensure ethnic Jews and Arabs live peacefully together.
Mtanes said his deep religious faith has directed his actions throughout his life. "I believe in God and I believe that it is forbidden to kill an innocent man," he said. "What else could I have done? These were innocent people who had nothing to do with the violence going on outside. I am very proud that they have remembered me after 63 years and want to (show their respect) for me."
Biram, Mtanes' native village, was destroyed by fledgling Israeli forces after the residents left voluntarily when they were promised they would be able to return within a short time.
Although the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled that the villagers were wrongfully removed from their village and many successive Israeli governments have supported the return of Biram's residents, no government has actually taken action to move the case forward
His son, Kamil Mtanes, 52, said his father is a prominent member of the Maronite community in Israel and has been very active preserving its history. "I am very proud to be the son of such a father," he said. "He has always been a guiding light for us."