Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Remembering Entebbe: Israel’s July 4

July 4, 2013 1:11 am 4 comments

Terminal at Entebbe International Airport where "Operation Entebbe" took place. Photo: SRA Andy Dunaway.

July 4 marks the 37th anniversary of Operation Yonatan, Israel’s dramatic rescue of 103 hostages that took place on July 4, 1976, at Entebbe, Uganda.

As a college student in the U.S., I vividly remember watching events unfold as most of the rest of the Nation was focused on the celebration of America’s bi-centennial.

Jews around the world held their breath as the terrorist incident ended with a relatively minimal loss of life. Pride and admiration for the daring and courage of Israel’s decision-makers and generals was the order of the day.

In Israel, the anniversary of the operation was marked for years by public official commemoration ceremonies.

In 2013, like the past several years, it appears that the only remembrance will be for Yoni Netanyahu, commander of the operation and the only Israeli soldier killed at Entebbe. The Netanyahu family and a few officials will make the annual pilgrimage to the grave of Yoni, older brother of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Back in July 2001, during the height of the terrorist war that followed the Camp David talks, things were different. That year, an official State commemoration of the 25th anniversary took place at the Binyanei Hauma Convention Center in Jerusalem.

In a masterful, moving event that was at once entertaining and educational, the state of Israel marked the passage of a quarter of a century since the dramatic hostage rescue. If events such as that could be translated and exported, Israel ‘s image problems would be dramatically improved, and Jews the world over might even begin to regain pride in the Jewish State.

In the week leading up to the 25th anniversary, Israel’s media focused on the unprecedented operation that took dozens of soldiers from Israel’s elite brigades on a daring and dangerous mission to rescue Jews thousands of miles away.

A TV documentary focused on Yoni Netanyahu’s career, featuring extensive photos, film clips, and interviews with his brothers and former girlfriend.

True to form, a post-Zionist columnist in Haaretz said the program, “Seems more like a propaganda film,” and opined “the Yoni that emerges from the film is not a flesh and blood character, but something closer to a modern day Bar Kochba.”

The 25th anniversary event was attended by the Nation’s leading politicians, those who took part in the Entebbe operation, former hostages and their rescuers, and thousands of soldiers from Sayeret Matkal, Tzanchanim, and Golani, the brigades that carried out the mission.

Ceremony attendees watched films showing the political leaders of 1976 debate what to do about the Jewish hostages who had been sitting under Ugandan dictator Idi Amin ‘s guard for days. The familiar faces of Yitzhak Rabin, Yigal Allon, Yitzhak Navon and Shimon Peres flitted across the screen.

Interspersed with the film clips, an accomplished singing troupes of several army and air force divisions belted out some of the old rousing Israeli anthems.

President Moshe Katzav thanked those who had liberated the hostages. “We say to the terrorists of today: we did it then and we can do it now if we want.”

Following Katzav ‘s speech, several minutes of film of former hostages describing their ordeal were screened. The hostages tell of their disbelief that the IDF had sent their forces across the African continent to rescue them. In excruciating detail, they calmly recount the selection procedure that separated the Jews and Israelis from the non-Jewish passengers on the Air France flight.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres rose to speak and chose to address himself to the assembled young soldiers who filled the hall. He urged them not to think of the Entebbe fighters as legendary heroes. “Each of you has the potential to do the same thing,” he said. “You represent the best hope for the people.”

Next on film was a short clip of an interview with a handsome middle-aged civilian who was a pilot of one of the Hercules planes that left the Sirkin Air Force Base for the seven -hour trip to Entebbe.

“We were so afraid of failure,” he says, his dark eyes looking unflinchingly at the camera. “But on the way back, I felt like it was Pesach. I recalled the words of the Hagaddah: ‘I and no angel: I and no messenger brought you out of the land of Egypt,’ ” concluded the pilot who wore no kippa. “If they told me now, 25 years later to go on such a mission, I’d go without hesitation. Ayn Lanu Eretz Acheret ! We have no other country,” he said, in a theme that was to echo throughout the evening.

Film interviews with others involved in the rescue followed. Almost all those who played significant roles in Entebbe went on to illustrious military and political careers. We watched as Ehud Barak, Matan Vilnai, Dan Shomron, and Ephraim Sneh spoke of their recollections twenty-five years on.

Shomron, the overall planner of the operation told the former hostages: “We knew we were endangering you, too. No one had any idea how many would fall. You were part of the campaign, you’re part of the fight against terror.”

Two of the paratroopers came on stage to read short statements in their own words about their feelings on the anniversary of the operation.

One tall, balding man with a gray mustache said he was disappointed that his teenage son and his classmates knew nothing about Operation Yonatan. “We’re facing the same things today, they need more than virtual Zionism, ” he said.

Benny, a younger man who was only 13 years old when he was taken hostage by the terrorists, told the audience in a trembling voice that he remembers every moment of the torment. “I was a kid who saw death in front of him.”

Tzipi Cohen was only 8 years old when she witnessed her father Pasco bleeding to death as he was accidentally shot by Israeli soldiers in the confusion of the rescue. Pasco Cohen lifted his head to look for his son when the shooting started and became one of four Jewish hostages who perished in Uganda. His daughter ended her brief remarks by reiterating her gratitude to the IDF for saving all the hostages, despite her personal tragedy.

The final segment of the two-hour program was entitled ‘The Price.’ Besides the loss of Yoni Netanyahu and the four hostages, one soldier, Surin Hershko, became a quadriplegic as a result of the injuries he sustained at Entebbe. We watched on screen as Surin used his computer at home. He uses an elongated straw manipulated by his mouth to write on the keyboard.

Hershko is completely paralyzed, but rolled to the front of the auditorium in his wheelchair to reminisce about the last time he ran or walked. “I remember what it was to be a fighter,” he recalled.

After presenting Hershko with a special medal commemorating Entebbe, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon delivered a speech that tied Israel’s efforts to combat terror in the 1970s to today’s struggle against the same enemy:

“In these confusing times, when there are those who question our capabilities or the justness of our cause, we return to those few hours when Israel stood up and in the face of the entire community of nations, waged a battle against violence and terrorism, proving that we can win.”

“These days, when we are in the midst of an ongoing battle against terrorism, violence and incitement, and when we are making a joint national effort to return to political negotiations without fire, we must rekindle the spirit of that operation. The secret of our strength lies in such spirit and faith, and if we learn how to renew it we will be able to meet all the challenges that still lie ahead.”

4 Comments

  • Luigi Rosolin

    I remember as young man watching the news in Italy, I know that I fill joy to see such great rescue. I think most of the Italian’s and the world had cheer up for the audacity and God blessing that had favorable help the success of a so dangerous mission.
    Is certainly worthy to celebrate a so important step.

  • shelly leibowitz

    I remember landing in Nairobi from South Africa (to Israel) and being asked to give up any seats to injured people who had been evacuated from Entebbe to Kenya. Us younger ones sat or lay in the aisles. I can still hear the cheering when we arrived in Israel.

  • What an experience, Loralee! Thanks for sharing…

  • LORALEE SPURLOCK

    We flew over Entebbe late the after noon of the 3rd of July, 1976. We were on our way to see our children at an English school in Kenya, from northern Zaire(Congo). We saw the hijacked plane and all the fighters on the Tarmac. We did not newer the tower when they kept asking us to identify our aircraft… We prayed!
    The next morning we went out to the Nairobi airport to meet a daughter coming from the US. Her plane was re-directed to another country!
    There were reporters and cameramen every where…so we asked one of them what was going on.
    They said that Israel had rescued th prisoners from Entebbe and Uganda had threatened Nairobi would be bombed for letting the plane refuel.
    Then we found out that Israel had destroyed all the fighter planes we had seen on the Uganda runway!
    Our daughter finally came and we went to the US embassy for the tail end of a July4th celebration…
    I love to watch the movies about it! What a victory for freedom!

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    The first English-language trailer for Natalie Portman’s directorial debut — A Tale of Love and Darkness — based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir, was released on Thursday. The movie, originally filmed in Hebrew, tells the story of Oz’s childhood in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate and the early years of Israel’s independence. Portman, who was born in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew, plays the lead role of Fania, the author’s mother. She struggles to raise her son as she deals with inner demons, a […]

    Read more →
  • Features As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    JNS.org – Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city — so much so that it goes by the nickname “Gaza Strip.” Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →