Entebbe rescue film ‘sure to anger Netanyahu’ set for Berlin premiere
(Uri Herzl Tzchik/IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Defense Ministry Archives)
The authors of a new British movie on the heroic hostage rescue operation known as "Entebbe" claim they reveal the actual story behind an episode which Israel has tended to mythologize.
The Entebbe operation saved 98 passengers after their plane was hijacked by the The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and diverted to Uganda, which was complicit with the Palestinian kidnapping attempt.
The only Israeli commando victim of the high risk operation at the Entebbe airport was Yoni Netanyahu, the brother of Israel's current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
His role in the special operation has been publicized as heroic, but the movie will apparently suggest it wasn't that crucial in the end.
"The Israeli version of events about Entebbe that always played out is that Yoni is the great hero of the story. Well, the reality is he’s a player in the story, but he’s probably not the most significant player. And there are certain errors that he makes during the operation itself.," claims Saul David, the historian whose book provided the basis for the screenplay of the book, speaking to a Hollywood magazine.
“It’s not a narrative that the Israeli Prime Minister is going to like at all,” he added, referring to the belittling of thee role of his brother Yoni. “He’s put a lot of pressure, even on people who are involved in the story. I mean he hasn’t actually said, ‘Change the story.’ But, ‘This is the way it happened, didn’t it?’
Screenplay writers also claim they mainly relied on first hand sources recounting the events in Entebbe, while avoiding the use of indirect accounts.
“It was very important to me to try to get as many details right as possible,” Jewish Brazilian director Jose Padilha told "The Hollywood Reporter".
“We talked to lots of people who were there at the time, including five or six soldiers who were part of the raid itself. The criteria was to run with direct witnesses, as opposed to people who said ‘I heard’ or ‘I believe’ it was like this. So I think we are close to the truth.”
Uganda and Israel decided to preserve the bullet scars in the walls of the old terminal at Entebbe, still the airport for the capital Kampala, some 25 miles to the north.
On the anniversary last year, some of the retired commandos who took part in the raid visited the scene of the extraordinary rescue, standing alongside Ugandan officials, including the son of their then enemy, dictator Idi Amin.
"We had short time to prepare for it," said Ofer, noting the more than 2,200 miles between Uganda and Israel, with a 48-hour ultimatum before the gunmen would start killing hostages. "The clock was ticking away after the terrorists gave their ultimatum."
An Air France plane en route from Tel Aviv to Paris had been hijacked by two Palestinians and two Germans in Athens, and ordered to fly to Entebbe with 250 passengers aboard.
Uganda's Amin, who had cut ties with Israel in favor of cash handouts from Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, allowed the hijacked plane to land.
On arrival, Jewish and Israeli hostages were separated and others freed, leaving about 100 hostages and crew members guarded by the hijackers.
Neither the hijackers nor Ugandan troops ever expected special forces could stage a raid from so far away, taking the airport by complete surprise.
"We fanned out without any one realizing that we were an enemy force," Ofer said, describing how they rushed out of the plane after touching down in the dark. The initial force roared out of the plane in a black Mercedes that looked like Amin's personal car, but their cover was blown when they had to shoot a Ugandan guard.
"Within minutes of our arrival, we were able to arrive at the terminal, killed the terrorists and within an hour we were on our way back to Israel," Ofer added.
All but three of the hostages were freed in the raid while 20 Ugandan soldiers and seven hijackers were killed, along with several Ugandan citizens.
One other hostage, a 75-year-old Israeli woman who had been transferred to a hospital, was subsequently killed on Amin's orders.
The raid "will forever remain at the heart of all those that got involved," said former Israeli sergeant-major Alex Davidi who also took part in the raid.
Bonifence Byamukama, from the Uganda Tourism Board, said they were "working on a monument in order to preserve the history" of the operation, including the bullet scars in the walls.
Netanyahu's trip to Uganda last year, the first by an Israeli premier to Africa since Yitzhak Rabin visited Casablanca in 1994, is a culmination of years of rapprochement and is hoped will boost links with African nations, particularly on security issues.
Galvanized by a growing demand for Israeli security assistance and his government's search for new allies, Netanyahu has put a fresh focus on improving ties on the continent.
Amin's son Jaffar, a 10-year old boy when the raid took place, welcomed the commandos to Uganda this month as a "sign of reconciliation," remembering the stories his father told after he was deposed and forced into exile.
Amin, whose eccentric eight-year regime helped his name become a shorthand for African dictatorship and violent misrule, said he had been "close" to the soldier who shot dead Yonatan Netanyahu.
The officer, named as Captain Rafael Osacha, reportedly died quietly in retirement in the 1990s.
Jaffar recalled what his father had said when he asked why he had not sent fighter jets to shoot down the departing Israelis.
"My father said of the Israelis, 'Son, those are the children of God, when they start to fight, they never stop,'" Jaffar said.
"To him, he felt they had come to rescue their people, they had accomplished their mission, so he let them go."
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