July 4, 1976--Victory Over Terrorism at Entebbe
In July of 1976, while the United States was celebrating its Bicentennial, a group of Jewish and Israeli hostages huddled under the watchful eyes and guns of Palestinian and German terrorists, who held them captive at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. As related in Wikipedia here:
On June 27, 1976 Air France Flight 139, an Airbus A300, originating in Tel Aviv, Israel and carrying 248 passengers and a crew of 12 took off from Athens, Greece, heading for Paris, France. Soon after the 12:30 p.m. takeoff, the flight was hijacked by four terrorists. The hijackers, two from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — External Operations (PFLP-EO) and two from the German "Revolutionäre Zellen", commandeered the flight, diverting it to Benghazi, Libya. There it was held on the ground for seven hours for refueling, and for the release of a female hostage; therafter taking off and arriving at 3:15 the next morning at Entebbe International Airport in Uganda.
At Entebbe, the four hijackers were joined by three additional terrorists, supported by the pro-Palestinian forces of Uganda's President, Idi Amin. The terrorists were led by Wilfried Böse. They demanded the release of 40 Palestinians held in Israel and 13 other detainees in prisons in Kenya, France, Switzerland, and Germany, or they would begin killing hostages on July 1.
The passengers were held hostage in the transit hall of Entebbe International Airport's old terminal. The hijackers, who demanded that Israel release Palestinian prisoners, released a large number of hostages, keeping only Israelis and Jews, whom they threatened to kill if Israel did not comply with their demand.
Realizing that the rest of the world would do nothing to save the hostages, Israel decided to act. A daring rescue operation was hurriedly planned, utilizing Sayeret Matkal, an elite Israeli anti-terrorist unit. On July 3rd and 4th, against all odds, it succeeded. All but two of the hostages were rescued unharmed. One hostage, a young man, was killed during the rescue when he stood up in the line of fire from the Israeli commanders. The other hostage was Dora Bloch, an 75-year old woman who had been removed from the airport and hospitalized following a choking incident. After the rescue, she was murdered on the orders of Idi Amin, the thuggish, homicidal ruler of Uganda.
The only casualty among the Israeli commanders was their commanding officer on the raid, Yonatan "Yoni" Netanyahu, whose photograph appears above at the left. A true hero of the Jewish people and the free world, Yoni gave his life in those early years of the war against terrorism, when it often seemed that Israel stood alone in facing this threat against world peace and security and human freedom.
I well remember waking up on the morning of July 4, 1976, and first learning about the rescue from huge headlines on page one of the Los Angeles Times (which in those days had not yet gone over to the other side in the war against terrorism). I was in Los Angeles to take the California bar exam, and my fiance Laura (now my wife of 30 years) and my sister Susan were visiting me for the holiday weekend. For days, the plight of the hostages had cast gloom over American Jews and friends of Israel. I woke my guests up screaming, "They rescued the hostages! Israel rescued the hostages!" We danced about the apartment in a mixture of joy, excitement and disbelief. By that time, the television networks were broadcasting film of the joyous reception that the freed hostages received upon their arrival back in Israel. I remember walking along Pico Boulevard near Robertson, then as now a center of Jewish life in Los Angeles, and seeing a sign on a store window reading "Kol Hacavod [all honor] to the brave Israeli commandos!"
Thirty years later the war on terror continues. There have been many thousands more casualties, including sadly some 3000 Americans on one day alone, September 11, 2001. Israel no longer fights alone, but it is still on the front lines of the war. It is in the spirit of Yoni Netanyahu--may his righteousness be remembered for a blessing--and "Operation Thunderbolt," the code name for the Entebbe raid, that the Israel Defense Forces have entered Gaza to rescue a single young Israeli soldier kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists, Corporal Gilad Shavit. The Israel Defense Forces still will not leave a hostage behind.
Once again, America, God Bless America and Happy Independence Day!