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Black September Revisited

Unable to hold back the tears much longer, I left the plane, slowly descending the ladder from the door of the plane, onto a jeep, and then onto the desert floor. I had a feeling of emptiness–I was being taken away from my family to a place that I didn’t know anything about. I had no one to console me except nine other men who felt the same as I did.

So begins the newly released Terror in Black September (www.terrorinblackseptember.com) published by Palgrave Macmillan, the first eyewitness account of the September 1970 hijackings. It is authored by David Raab , who was held hostage for three weeks amidst a Jordanian civil war and a torrent of high level international diplomacy aimed as securing his and his fellow captives’ release. Raab, who has gone on to become a management consultant and a prominent pro-Israel activist, experienced the events as a seventeen year old high school student returning from a summer vacation in Israel with his mother and four siblings. The flight originating from Tel Aviv that he and his family were aboard was seized along with three other airplanes by the radical Palestinian group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), who intended to use their captives to gain the release of Palestinian terrorists in Israeli and European prisons.

Through this book, released on September 6th to mark the 37th anniversary of the hijacking, Raab returns readers to an unprecedented drama of turmoil and uncertainty that united the global Jewish community with much of the Western world and opened up a more virulent and deeply troubling era of terrorism. The terror group formed and named after the calamity that befell the Palestinians during Black September’s fighting went on to perpetrate the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. And, while international terrorism has since taken innumerable dark twists and turns, September 1970 still stands as a watershed event in the development of modern terrorism, with its quadruple hijackings mimicked by Al-Qaeda 31 years later on September 11.

The book intertwines excerpts from a diary the author recorded shortly after his release with a thoroughly researched history of the surrounding events. Through this unique lens of storytelling, which allows a historical record to read more like a suspense novel, Raab combines the personal perspectives of an innocent teenager swept up in one of the most tumultuous events of the time with the informed understanding of that period as viewed through the benefit of hindsight and newly-uncovered information.

Accessing thousands of previously classified documents and conversations, the book provides several never-before-published historical findings and describes a saga which, taking place amidst the already tense fabric of the Cold War, originated in the deserts of Jordan but carried over into halls of power from Washington to Moscow , London , and Jerusalem . In so doing, Raab offers a glimpse into the fascinatingly cutthroat yet typically hidden arena of the international diplomacy that kept his life and that of his fellow hostages in the balance as politicians and military leaders debated what measures to take, offensive, defensive, and punitive. For example, he writes:

In addition to hard diplomacy, [U.S. President Richard] Nixon also wanted [Henry] Kissinger to plan “some punishment…because we said we would hold them responsible. And we’ve got to keep our pledge in that respect…I want to have something we can do – not just a big statement. We just go in with a merciless air strike on somebody – even the Syrians.”…

At 7:00PM the Washington Special Actions Group met in the White House Situation Room to develop a final recommendation for the president on whether and how the United States or Israel should intervene, if asked. Within twenty minutes, the group concluded that it would be preferable for Israel to act, with U.S. forces “holding the ring” against Soviet intervention.

As the first book-length offering from Raab, who has previously authored several essays published by Israel-based think tanks as well as numerous editorial pieces featured in North American Jewish weeklies, Terror in Black September is a historical work that will be of benefit to the academic world but is also, at its core, a moving personal drama. Today, a father of three and grandfather of six who splits his time between New Jersey and Raanana , Israel , Raab concludes that his book is not just the story of an individual’s survival but rather is symbolic of a far more consequential triumph.

“I think about my experiences in Jordan almost every day,” said Raab. “My family and I celebrate a day of thanksgiving every anniversary of my miraculous release from captivity. It bothered me that no book had ever been written fully documenting Black September. I have now written that history. It is said that history is written by the victors.”

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