MY SAY: HAPPY ANNIVERSARY AMERICA AND HAPPY ENTEBBE ANNIVERSARY ISRAEL
My family and guests were celebrating the great American Centennial, July 4th, 1976 in the wonderful town of Newtown, Connecticut. We had an old brass bell that we were poised to peal at noon in concert with the entire town when a neighbor drove into our home exclaiming….”The Israelis freed the hostages!!!” We rushed to see and hear the breaking news.It was a sunny and beautiful day. We all rushed out and danced a hora on our lawn joined by our wonderful neighbors.
What a glorious and memorable day.
Jeff Dunetz remembered it well:
On June 27, 1976, Air France Flight 139, carrying 248 passengers and a crew of twelve, took off from Athens, heading for Paris. Soon after the 12:30 p.m. takeoff, the flight was hijacked by two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External OperationsGerman “Revolutionary Cells (RZ)” (Wilfried Böse and Brigitte Kuhlmann), who commandeered the flight, diverting it to Benghazi, Libya. The plane left Benghazi, and at 3:15 it arrived at Entebbe Airport in Uganda.
At Entebbe, the four hijackers were joined by three “friends” supported by the pro-Palestinian forces of Uganda’s President, Idi Amin. The hijackers were led by Böse. They demanded the release of 40 Palestinians held in Israel and 13 other detainees imprisoned in Kenya, France, Switzerland, and Germany–and if these demands were not met, they threatened to begin killing hostages on July 1, 1976 that deadline was extended to July 4th.
The hijackers held the passengers hostage in the transit hall of Entebbe Airport and released all the hostages except for Israelis and Jews, whom they threatened to kill if Israel did not comply with their demands. Upon the announcement by the hijackers that the airline crew and non-Israeli/non-Jewish passengers would be released and put on another Air France plane that had been brought to Entebbe for that purpose, Flight 139′s Captain Michel Bacos told the hijackers that all passengers, including the remaining ones, were his responsibility, and that he would not leave them behind. Bacos’ entire crew followed suit. A French nun also refused to leave, insisting that one of the remaining hostages take her place, but she was forced into the awaiting Air France plane by Ugandan soldiers. A total of 83 Israeli and/or Jewish hostages remained, as well as 20 others, most of whom included the crew of the Air France plane.
On July 4th 1976 shortly after midnight Israeli Planes landed at Entebbe and began their now famous rescue. The entire assault lasted less than 30 minutes and all six of the hijackers were killed. Yonatan Netanyahu (Bibi’s older brother) was the only Israeli commando who died during the operation. He was killed near the airport entrance, apparently by a Ugandan sniper who fired at the Israeli commandos from the nearby control tower. At least five other Israeli commandos were wounded. Out of the 103 hostages, three were killed and approximately 10 were wounded. A total of 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed during the raid, and about 11 Ugandan Army Air Force MiG-17 grounded fighter planes at Entebbe Airport were destroyed. The rescued hostages were flown out to Israel via Nairobi shortly after the fighting.
The government of Uganda later convened a session of the United Nations Security Council to seek official condemnation of the Israeli raid, as a violation of Ugandan sovereignty. The Security Council ultimately declined to pass any resolution on the matter. In his address to the Council, the Israeli ambassador Chaim Herzog said:
We come with a simple message to the Council: we are proud of what we have done because we have demonstrated to the world that a small country, in Israel’s circumstances, with which the members of this Council are by now all too familiar, the dignity of man, human life and human freedom constitute the highest values. We are proud not only because we have saved the lives of over a hundred innocent people—men, women and children—but because of the significance of our act for the cause of human freedom.
For refusing to depart when given leave to do so by the hijackers, Captain Bacos was reprimanded by his superiors at Air France (gotta love the French) and suspended from duty for a period.
Chaim Herzog’s words still ring true. That act of rescuing 100+ hostages still ring true. The Act of fighting for freedom still rings true. The lesson of Entebbe is the lesson of 1776, freedom is important enough to fight for. Both the US and Israeli governments would be well served to remember that lesson a little more often:
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