The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT&ANALYSIS -

BBC2, April 15

FOR ANY gov­ern­ment wish­ing to res­cue hostages, the op­er­a­tion on En­tebbe re­mains the gold stan­dard. It spawned four star-stud­ded fea­ture films and dozens of doc­u­men­taries. In­deed the sur­vivors have spent most of the 30 years since the op­er­a­tion be­ing in­ter­viewed; as this doc­u­men­tary demon­strated, the news footage from those eight days in June 1976 have been played so much that it is be­gin­ning to wear out.

How­ever, this film, the first of the BBC’s Age of Ter­ror se­ries, was wel­come. Vet­eran jour­nal­ist Peter Tay­lor man­aged to ob­tain com­pelling tes­ti­mony from hostages, sol­diers both Ugan­dan and Is­raeli, and friends and rel­a­tives of the hostage-tak­ers.

Strange to say about a mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion in which peo­ple lost their lives, there was also in­tense nos­tal­gia. For we were trans­ported back to a golden age when Is­raeli sol­diers were au­da­cious and heroic, when the coun­try it­self was a David fight­ing — and win­ning — against the Arab Go­liath, and the rest of the world was awed by this young coun­try green­ing the desert and flour­ish­ing against the odds.

Air France flight 139 took off from Ben Gu­rion air­port on June 26, 1976 bound for Paris via Athens. How­ever, among the pas­sen­gers board­ing in the Greek cap­i­tal were five Pales­tinian and two Ger­man ter­ror­ists who di­verted the plane from its in­tended flight path and took it on a tour of Africa’s cra­zi­est dic­ta­tor­ships. First stop was Beng­hazi Libya, home of Colonel Muam­mar alGaddafi, then on to En­tebbe, Uganda, where the hostages were wel­comed per­son­ally by Pres­i­dent Idi Amin Dada, de­scribed by Tay­lor as “flam­boy­ant, ruth­less and quite pos­si­bly mad”.

Ac­cord­ing to one of the hostages, Sara David­son, Amin looked “huge” and was wear­ing a “scary uni­form”. But Amin’s uni­form was pos­si­bly the least scary thing about the hostages’ plight. The ter­ror­ists were threat­en­ing to ex­e­cute them un­less Pales­tinian pris­on­ers were re­leased from Is­raeli pris­ons. They were op­er­at­ing with the ac­tive as­sis­tance of Amin, whose for­mer friend­ship with Is­rael had ended af­ter he failed to settle his bills. The Is­raeli gov­ern­ment, headed by Yitzhak Rabin, felt it had no op­tion but to ca­pit­u­late but the mil­i­tary were told to in­ves­ti­gate the fea­si­bil­ity of a res­cue.

In the mean­time, the ter­ror­ists set about di­vid­ing the hostages into Jews, and non-Jews. David­son re­calls the hor­ror as the names of the Jews were read out coldly by a fe­male Ger­man ter­ror­ist, evok­ing hor­rific echoes of the Holo­caust.

Once the non-Jews had been re­leased, the world learned of the “se­lec­tions”. It gal­vanised the Is­raelis into ac­tion. Said Lieu­tenant Colonel Joshua Shani of the IDF: “I was an­gry. It made me ready to kick ass and take names.”

Us­ing their knowl­edge of En­tebbe air­port, gained while work­ing in the African repub­lic in the 1960s, the Is­raeli mil­i­tary came up with a res­cue plan. The gov­ern­ment dithered. Even­tu­ally, Dan Shom­ron, the gen­eral head­ing the op­er­a­tion, begged Rabin for per­mis­sion to take off, ar­gu­ing that this still left the gov­ern­ment four hours to make a de­ci­sion. Over Ethiopia, the op­er­a­tion was au­tho­rised.

It seems in­cred­i­ble that Her­cules trans­port planes could land with­out arous­ing sus­pi­cion, but they did. The Is­raeli spe­cial forces sped to­wards the ter­mi­nal in black Mercedes (the favoured trans­port of African top brass), to be con­fronted by Ugan­dan sol­diers who were wak­ing up to the pos­si­bil­ity of an at­tack by the “chil­dren of God”, their term for the Is­raelis. Af­ter a brief fire­fight which cost the lives of all the ter­ror­ists, three civil­ians, a num­ber of Ugan­dan sol­diers and one Is­raeli sol­dier, the hostages were res­cued. An­other hostage, 75-year-old Dora Bloch, who had been taken to hospi­tal af­ter be­ing taken ill, was later bru­tally mur­dered by Amin’s forces in re­venge.

As the planes landed, Is­rael erupted in cel­e­bra­tion. The Jewish state was tri­umphant, the forces of ter­ror had been van­quished. It was all poignantly and metic­u­lously re­called by Tay­lor.

When a story is this good, who needs Burt Lan­caster, Liz Tay­lor or An­thony Hop­kins?

Pre­sen­ter Peter Tay­lor at En­tebbe air­port

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