The Legacy of Entebbe

Rescued Air France passengers wave to the waiting crowd while leaving the belly of the Hercules plane at Ben-Gurion Airport. (photo by Moshe Milner)

It was June, 27, 1976,  43 years ago. The Palestine Liberation Organization and radical left-wing Germans hijacked an Air France flight in Athens, refueled in Libya, and landed at Entebbe airport in Uganda.  There, the syphilitic president, Idi Amin, surrounded by soldiers carrying machine guns, welcomed the passengers.  He was cooperating with the terrorists.

The PLO wanted Israel to negotiate for the hostages by releasing imprisoned Palestinian terrorists who had already murdered scores of Israelis.

The first thing the hijackers did was to collect the passengers’ identifying papers.  About half the passengers were Jewish, most of them Israelis.  Once they were herded into the large shed that served as the terminal, the passengers were separated.  It was frightening, especially to older people who had memories of concentration camp ‘selektions.’  The non-Jewish passengers were freed, the others, more than 100 Jewish men, women, and children, were forced to remain under armed guard.

I was visiting my grandmother in New York at the time and I remember it clearly. Grandma survived a pogrom, and had seen her husband shot during the robbery of his little store. We sat at the kitchen table with the newspaper headline staring at us.

It was already a few days in and no country, no international force was doing anything to save the hostages.  How could that be?  Surely the great country of America which stands for freedom will send its force to free the hostages, I thought.  Or perhaps it will be France since it’s their plane that was hijacked and their French crew who chose to remain with the hostages.

“The world doesn’t care when a Jew is murdered,” my grandma said sorrowfully, but with conviction.  I couldn’t or wouldn’t agree with her.  The world I was growing up in wasn’t, couldn’t be, such a cruel place.  I was innocent, naïve, and ignorant.  My family, like many other Jewish families of the time, shielded children from a complete knowledge of the atrocities committed on Jews throughout history.

My grandmother was right, though.  No one cared, no country, organization or international force did a thing.  A week went by and the Jews waited.  They sang “Am Yisroel Chai,” and prepared themselves for death.  They shielded the children, some as young as six, but how much could they do?

Who were the men who held little children at gunpoint, who threatened to kill even the children, if their demands were not met?  When they freed half the hostages, the ones who were not Jewish, they could have let the children go, but these men were not human beings. They were beasts, the same kind of beasts who blithely murdered one and a half million Jewish children during the Holocaust, who wrenched babies from their mother’s arms and bayoneted them, who tortured children during gruesome “scientific” experiments.

My grandma was right, but she grew up in a world before the state of Israel.  She only knew of Jews as victims. But now there was a new player on the field. Now that our national pride was restored, we were the masters of our fate.

The world didn’t care.  When Israeli planes, against all odds, went to rescue the hostages, not only did they have to do it alone, but Moslem countries put obstacles in their way by not allowing them to fly in their air space, so the planes had to fly low to avoid radar.

The world didn’t care, but it applauded the successful rescue of all but four of the hostages.

The hero of the rescue was its leader, Yonatan Netanyahu, brilliant and Harvard educated, he was one of the planners of the operation.  Sadly, he was the only one of the force to be killed during the rescue.

Jews around the world celebrated when the rescue became known. Other nations  looked on with shame that they had done nothing to help, and  Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to honor his brother’s memory by doing everything he could to strengthen and protect the Jewish nation.


H. Applebaum is a freelance writer based in San Diego. Republished from San Diego Jewish World.

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