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June 6, 2016 7:42 am

Homage to an Israeli Hero: Yoni Netanyahu

avatar by Judah Botzer

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The Netanyahu family visits the grave of Israeli Prime Minister  Benjamin Netanyhau's brother, Lt. Col. Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed during Operation Entebbe. Photo: Screenshot.

The Netanyahu family visits the grave of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhau’s brother, Lt. Col. Yoni Netanyahu, who was killed during Operation Entebbe. Photo: Screenshot.

Every child and every nation needs a hero — especially in these terror-ridden times. Sometimes that hero pays the ultimate price, and is taken from our midst.

The sands of time cover our collective memory, but I would like to recall the memory of a childhood hero of mine who will live on forever. Though his name lives on through his younger brother, Bibi, his legacy is his own.

I am referring to Yoni Netanyahu, who led the rescue mission known as Operation Entebbe.

On June 27, 1976, an Air France flight out of Tel Aviv, with 248 passengers and 12 crew members on board, was hijacked while departing Athens, Greece. After temporarily landing in Benghazi, Libya, the plane continued to Entebbe. It was welcomed by the dictator of Uganda, 6-foot 4-inch Idi Amin Dada, whose big smile and hearty laugh got even heartier with all the world’s attention.

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The hijacking was directed by Wadi Hadad, head of the External Operation’s unit of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Two of its members, along with two German accomplices, took over the plane.

On the ground at Entebbe Airport, 142 of the passengers were released as the terrorists’ demands were put forth. The remaining 94 were kept hostage because they were Israelis and non-Israeli Jews. They were joined by the 12 crew members, who would not leave their side.

The selection process echoed the Holocaust — but this time, thanks to the state of Israel, the outcome would be different.

The rescue took place under the shadow of the American bicentennial, and was led by Yoni Netanyahu — who, for some years as a young adult, lived not far from the Liberty Bell.

On July 4, 1976, after traversing 2,500 miles in complete secrecy, four C-130 transport planes landed on the tarmac at Entebbe.

A replica of Idi Amin’s black limousine rolled out from the belly of one transport (the daring plan even included an Idi Amin look-alike). With lightning precision, the 29-man Israeli team took out the four terrorists and an additional 45 Ugandan soldiers. Three of the hostages died and five commandos were wounded, but Commander Yoni was the only soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice.

On July 5, 2016, former CIA Director James Woolsey, Jr. will be the keynote speaker at a commemoration for Yoni Netanyahu held at the 400-year old Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia — the synagogue of the American Revolution.

Yoni, your courage epitomized the human spirit. May your name be emblazoned for all time.

Judah Botzer is a massage therapist and Hebrew teacher. Originally hailing from Cleveland Heights, Ohio, he has lived in Taos County, New Mexico, for 25 years. Prior to living in New Mexico, he lived in Jerusalem between 1975 and 1990. Botzer was a member of the core group that founded Kibbutz Neot Semadar and served in the IDF’s 890th regiment. He lives with his dog Tzilah and cat Yedidah.

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  • akramer

    A beautifully written tribute.

  • sherwool

    Thank you for writing this. As a gentile, I too have log held the name “Yoni Netanhayu”. I am reminded of Yitzak Rabin’s comment, “It’s the same in every war. The best do not return.”

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