This month marks 40 years since Operation Entebbe, a successful counter-terrorism hostage-rescue mission carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on the night of July 3rd and early morning of July 4th, 1976. In the wake of the hijacking of Air France Flight 139 (on its way from Israel to France), and the hijackers’ threats to kill the hostages if their prisoner release demands were not met, a plan was drawn up to airlift the hostages to safety. These plans took into account the likelihood of armed resistance from Ugandan military troops.
I recently watched Operation Thunderbolt, which captures the general details of this historic event. Following are three powerful images from this movie that will remain with me for a long time:
Simply because they were Jews
When the hostages were pushed off the plane and into the Ugandan airport, the terrorists identified all the Jewish passengers by checking everyone’s passports. They then proceeded to call each Jew by name and ordered them to remove themselves from the group and go into an adjoining room, while the remaining hostages were released.
Young people, old people, a bearded man with a kippah, a vulnerable elderly woman, a frightened child, were all shoved into this room of isolation. Why? Not because they were “Orthodox”, or “Conservative”, “practicing”, or “non-practicing.” Because they were simply Jews. Nothing else mattered. A few tried to convince them otherwise-that their name sounded Jewish, but they weren’t…that they weren’t Israeli citizens…But it all remained irrelevant. They were despised before the terrorists laid eyes on them. Not because of anything they did. But because of who they were.
I dream that all Jews can embrace and accept each other with the intense understanding that we are all the same. Not because we are “Orthodox”, or “Conservative,” “practicing”, or “non-practicing.” Because we are simply Jews. Nothing else matters. Not how we “practice,” and not where our citizenship lies. It’s all irrelevant. We can love each other before we even lay eyes on each other. Not because of anything we do. Simply because of who we are.
Light of goodness shines out in the midst of the darkness of evil
Friday evening arrived, and the hostages could see no end in sight…Yet they had the light of the Shabbat candles. As the night covered them in darkness, the Jews gathered together and lit two flames, yet one more insistent, fiery symbol in our long, painful history of an unrelenting endurance and faith in the most horrific of circumstances.
Tears of joy, tears of grief
When the hostages returned back to Israel on the army aircraft, hundreds of people reached out to embrace their loved ones as the planes landed. And as many hostages and soldiers ran forward, one soldier and three hostages remained, forever still.
Friends, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, all shared the same ground, the same moment, yet as some hearts swelled, others shattered. Life is full of opposites. Our expectations are met, our expectations go unfulfilled. Relationships bring us joy, relationships bring us pain. An elderly man dies, a baby is born. But to see the realization of life and death, joy and grief, all at once is a scene I will not soon forget.