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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Relationships Yossi Vardi Credits Pushy Jewish Mother for His Startup Success

    Yossi Vardi Credits Pushy Jewish Mother for His Startup Success

    Millionaire entrepreneur Yossi Vardi credited his success in start-ups to his Jewish mother continuously pushing him to do better, Daily Mail reported on Thursday. “Jewish mothers are never satisfied and nothing is ever good enough,” he said, adding that his mother, who died 15 years ago, used to compare him with his cousins and say he was “an idiot.” “For most of my life I have been trying to show her I’m not,” he continued. “I keep on trying even now.” Vardi, […]

    Read more →
  • Theater US & Canada Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Famed actor Seth Rogen on Tuesday unveiled with typical comic fanfare the trailer for his new Christmas film. The movie “was made by Jews… and opens on Thanksgiving,” Rogen pointed out on Twitter. The Night Before tells the tale of three “ride or die homies” celebrating one last debauchery-filled Christmas Eve reunion before they become too busy to keep up their annual tradition. In an effort to make the night as memorable as possible, they set out to find the “Nutcracka Ball – the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    A June 2015 art exhibit, “The Transformative Power of Art,” at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, harnessed the universal language of art to convey an important message: “Our fragile Mother Earth faces the devastating consequences of climate change, a defining challenge of our time.” The exhibit also included sixteen portraits of people from all over the world who have “contributed to the common good of humanity in one way or another and have transformed the way we […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    A 32-year-old Circassian Israeli Muslim Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Abu Ghosh says he takes pride in fighting under the Israeli flag, Israel’s Walla reported on Sunday. Like most Circassian Israelis, Jackie “the Punishment” Gosh was born Sunni Muslim. He became observant about eight years ago, and is now scrupulous in following his religion’s tenets, praying five times a day and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Gosh is also very proud of his Israeli nationality, and sees no contradiction between […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    A new documentary explores the lives and work of Jewish and Arab rappers in Israel and how the ongoing conflict in the region has impacted their lyrics, the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle reported on Thursday. Hip Hop in the Holy Land is a six-part series co-directed by Mike Skinner, the British frontman of hip-hop group The Streets, and produced by Noisey, a music channel published by Vice news. The first episode, published last week, shows Skinner meeting with Tamer Nafar, the founder of one of […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada 49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    New 49ers running back and Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne apologized on Wednesday for a tweet in which he raised the age-old myth that Jews were historically responsible for Jesus Christ’s death. Reaching out to his Jewish fans, and the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Hayne tweeted: “To the Jewish community @DvirAbramovich #WeAreAllOne.” Underneath, he keenly included a screenshot of a text message to elaborate on his apology: “I sincerely apologize for my tweets on July 1. I […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot reminisced about her childhood in Israel during an interview published in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair. “I don’t remember this, but my mom told me that when I was three they threw a party on the rooftop of the house. They put me to bed, and I heard people coming into the house and no one came to me. I went to the rooftop and took a hose and I started to spray water on everyone, just […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    An Israeli organization is helping wounded U.S. veterans move past their physical and psychological challenges by connecting them with injured Israeli soldiers who understand what they’ve been through. “What we discovered very early is that there’s no ‘professional, psychiatrist, social worker’ or anything like that [or] pills that can come even close to helping a soldier who fought in combat, who was wounded, who lost his friends. No one can help him like another person who’s been through exactly what he has,” Rabbi Chaim Levine, […]

    Read more →