July 4, 1976.
In the United States, 16 tall ships sailed the high seas to New York City’s Hudson River. The Parade of Ships of Operation Sail was a dramatic televised event to celebrate the 200th anniversary of signing of the Declaration of Independence. Bicentennial bashes were held across the US.
Meanwhile, half way around the world, a very different operation was proceeding, in silence and in the dark of night. Israel had launched Operation Entebbe.
Sunday night, July 10, 2016, Israel marked the 40th anniversary of Operation Entebbe, later renamed Operation Yonatan, for Yonatan Netanyahu, the commander who was killed leading the successful rescue mission. Attending the emotional and well-planned program in the Jerusalem Theater, I realized those under the age of 50 would not remember the feelings of terror and dread. Or the release of emotions and euphoria, when the hijacked survivors and IDF forces were finally back on Israeli soil.
Jewish passengers on the ill-fated Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris, over 100 hostages, were huddled in the Entebbe Airport terminal facing death. On June 27, PFLP and Red Army terrorists had boarded their plane in Athens and diverted it to Uganda, by way of Libya.
The terrorists demands included the release of dozens of prisoners from Israel, Kenya and Germany, plus 5 million dollars from France. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the hijacking and destruction of commercial airliners, by the PFLP, PLO and anarchists occurred way too often.
Jewish friends of this author were on a boat off the New Jersey shore for those July 4th weekend celebrations. When they docked, strangers came up to them. “Congratulations!” they were told. In the days, long before cell phones and Twitter, there was no way of hearing news while at sea. They still smile broadly when retelling the story, 40 years later.
The number of plane hijackings fell dramatically after Entebbe. The PLO and PFLP have managed to find new ways of terrorism and spawned many more terror organizations.
Along with Israeli dignitaries, families of survivors filled the theater for the ceremony to remember the remarkable mission 40 years ago.
At the conclusion of the program, those who lost their lives were remembered.
The family of Dora Bloch z”l who was murdered in a Ugandan hospital after the rescue, will never forget.
Of the effect of Operation Entebbe on young Benjamin Netanyahu, the loss of his older brother, we’ll leave it to the historians who are likely to fill volumes with their speculations.
I cannot help wonder, what would be the world’s reaction today were Israel to dare another such operation on foreign soil? Would the world say Mazel Tov or run to condemn Israel at the UN?
For a brief time 40 years ago, the Jewish people and most of the world stood proud behind the IDF and Israel.
In many ways it seems those days are gone. Except perhaps for those who have the memories, felt the terror, and then the overwhelming pride in the Jewish State and its daring and successful defense forces.
Eretz Tzvi was a song inspired by those times.