October 7 survivor stars in Israel’s amputee soccer team

Ben Binyamin attends a training session for the Israel Amputee Football team in the Israeli town of Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv

Ben Binyamin lost his right leg when the attackers threw four grenades and shot into an air raid shelter where he and his friends were taking cover. His fiancee also lost a leg. Picture: Jack Guez/AFP

Published Apr 1, 2024


Ben Binyamin was left for dead by Hamas militants when they stormed into Israel on October 7.

Six months later, he is the rock at the heart of the defence for Israel's national amputee football team, dreaming of lifting the Euro 2024 cup in France in June.

Binyamin was celebrating his 29th birthday at the Supernova music festival where 364 people were killed.

He lost his right leg when the attackers threw four grenades and shot into an air raid shelter where he and his friends were taking cover. His fiancee also lost a leg.

‘Never thought I would play football again’

"I never thought I would play football again," said the former professional player, who lost his right leg. "I was pretty sure I wouldn't be able to walk, never mind run.”

Yet here he was bursting from midfield on his crutches firing a stinging left-footed shot into the corner of the net from the edge of the box.

Binyamin does not like to dwell on the horror he went through during the October 7 attack, which resulted in around 1,160 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

"You can't imagine," he said.

He lost friends. The body of one, Shani Louk, was paraded around Gaza after the bloodbath, according to Israel's foreign ministry.

Two of his other teammates at the training session near Tel Aviv were soldiers who lost their legs fighting Hamas in Gaza.

One was shot by a sniper, the other had his leg shredded when his armoured personnel carrier was hit by a rocket.

'Better off without my foot’

But now this band of brothers have found striking resilience and a deep well of mutual support driving Israel's nascent amputee soccer squad to the European finals.

The man who recruited them from their hospital beds, Zach Shichrur, knows what they have been through.

"Your life is not over," he told them as he recounted his own stirring story.

Shichrur's foot was crushed when he was hit by a bus when he was eight. After enduring decades of severe pain and reconstructive surgery, the 35-year-old lawyer decided that "I might be better off without my foot”.

"It was a tough decision, but the best I ever took. With prosthetics not only can I do things that every normal person can do. I can also do things I never imagined I would be able to do like surfing, kite surfing and snowboarding," he told AFP.

Shichrur calls the amputation "a kind of liberation. It broke my cage and gave me the wings I always wanted.”

The founder and captain of the Israeli national amputees' team, he has infused his teammates with the same unshakeable optimism.

"It is the privilege of my life to support my friends... guys who awoke and didn't know whether they would walk again," he said.

"We show that not only can you go back to normal life, you can play soccer on one leg and play for your country.”

"If I go back to that eight-year-old who wanted to be a footballer and who was told by the doctors to get another dream... you can see how important this is for me.”

Survivor 'played for Arab teams’

While Shichrur prefers to push his team with positivity, coach Sharon Paz believes more in tough love. No one is allowed to dally for a second.

"It doesn't help to be easy on them," he said.

And the team does have some spectacular talents. Striker Ben Maman, 20, was one of Israel's hottest young stars until he lost his leg when he was hit by a motorbike as he was working as delivery rider on a bicycle to support his family during Covid.

Taking off his artificial leg before training -- the players are only allowed to play on crutches -- he looked around the dressing room and said, "I love these guys.”

Like Binyamin, he lost his good leg, his left, yet here he was putting on the national jersey he "dreamed of wearing when I was a kid”.

Gaza also has a fledgling amputee soccer squad.

Nearly 33,000 people have been killed there in Israel's unrelenting response to the October 7 attack, according to the territory's health ministry.

But even if the war were to end tomorrow, Binyamin, who spent years "playing for Arab teams" in Israel, doesn't see the chance of a friendly match anytime soon.

"Before October 7 I thought there could be peace... and I have a lot of Arab friends -- even from Jenin -- who ask after me," he said, referring to a flashpoint city in the occupied West Bank.

But having witnessed what he did, "I cannot believe there will be peace because they only want our destruction. But we won't leave here no matter what happens."