Raid on Entebbe: Part two

It was Sunday the 27th of June 1976 when Air France Flight 139 arrived in Athens on a scheduled stopover, before departing again at 12.30pm en route to its eventual final destination of Paris.

During its brief stay at Ellinikon International Airport, it took on board a number of additional passengers, among them two members of the German Left Wing Revolutionare Zellen (RZ) and two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-External Operations (PFLP-EO).

The RZ had formed in West Germany in 1973 from networks comprising of far left militant groups such as the Autonomen and the feminist ideologically driven Rote Zora.

In recent years the RZ had become one of a number of external far left terrorist groups which the PFLP-EO had begun working alongside in order to carry out a more generalised and protracted attack on both Israeli and non-Israeli targets deemed as having a perceived sympathy towards the continuation of the state of Israel.

The proliferation of terrorist attacks against Israel had begun to proliferate in the late 1960’s in the wake of the stunning successes gained during the Six Day War as the overall momentum for the eradication of Israel moved away from one being waged purely by national armies on the battlefield towards an increased focus on terror tactics.

The initial formalisation of Palestinian terrorist activity was the founding of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1967 by George Habash, however it took less than a year for a split to emerge within this organisation when Ahmed Jibril broke away to form the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) after internal tensions and claims that the PFLP was producing nothing but ‘impotent intellectuals’.

The PFLP-GC would go on to mount a series of attacks within Israel.

On May the 22nd 1970, a school bus was attacked in northern Israel claiming the lives of 12 civilians with 9 of these innocent victims being children.

Not to be outdone the PFLP carried out the hijacking of five international airliners in the same year.

Three of these airliners were eventually landed at a tiny airstrip in Jordan called Dawson’s Field.

During this attack no hostages were killed, however, the world began to take more notice of this new form of terror which was beginning to capture headlines and attention for the Palestinian cause.

The inevitable crackdown on these activities brought about further ruptures within the PFLP regarding best overall strategy towards their political ends.

As a result, a member of the PFLP named Wadie Haddad went on to form the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine – External Operations (PFLP-EO).

This new offshoot of terror began a series of attacks which relied on the use of non-Palestinian groups in order to achieve its nefarious ends.

On May the 30th 1972 the PFLP-EO, in partnership with members of the Japanese Red Army, attacked Lod Airport just outside of Tel Aviv killing 26 people and injuring up to 80 more.

As the decade progressed more and more attacks were felt both inside Israel and out, prompting a re-evaluation of counter measures towards this new and ever growing threat.

It was therefore not entirely a surprise for the Israeli authorities when word filtered through to them of this latest in a long list of hijackings.

All that was known at the time was that shortly after Flight 139’s departure from Athens, the aircraft had been taken over by hijackers and ordered to alter its course for Benghazi airport in Libya.

In Benghazi, it was held on the ground for seven hours and refuelled.

During this time a British-born Israeli citizen by the name of Patricia Martell pretended to have a miscarriage and was allowed to leave in order to seek medical attention.

Ms Martell was immediately questioned by the Israeli Intelligence Service Mossad, in order to glean as much information about the hijackers and hostages as possible.

Shortly afterwards the plane was permitted by Colonel Gaddafi to take off from Benghazi and at 3.15pm on the 28th of June, more than 24 hours after its initial hijacking, it was to arrive at its final unintended destination of Entebbe International Airport in Uganda.

Upon arrival the hijackers were joined by several others.

The 248 hostages and 12 crew members were then honoured by a visit from the syphilis riddled Ugandan leader himself, who proceeded to loudly proclaim himself as their God sent saviour in a bizarre rant which went on for some time.

Ugandan troops were positioned around the perimeter of the airfield and the hostages were corralled into the old terminal building, ironically having been built by a joint Ugandan-Israeli economic project some years before.

The following day, Tuesday the 29th, the most chilling episode of this strange enterprise was to occur when the hostages were separated into two groups.

“Jews to the left! Non-Jews to the right!”

A small number of hostages had heard words similar to these spoken before: on a different continent long ago, yet still etched into their minds, hearts and souls.

As one Holocaust survivor showed German hijacker Wilfried Bose his arm bearing his camp registration number, Bose was heard to proclaim:

“I’m no Nazi! I’m an idealist!”

Three Jewish hostages: Janet Almog, Jocelyne Monier, and fatefully Jean-Jacques Mimoni, all who were not called out reportedly chose to join the group of terrified people out of solidarity and good conscience.

The following day 48 of the non-Jewish hostages were released by the hijackers after word came through that the Israeli government had conveyed its agreement to enter into formal negotiations with them concerning their demands.

These demands were the release of around 40 Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons and 13 other non-Palestinians release in four other countries.

With the confirmation of formal negotiation proceedings going ahead, the hijackers extended the deadline to noon on the 4th of July and released a further 100 non-Jewish hostages leaving behind 106, a number which included the 12 members of the Air France crew who refused to leave the passengers which they felt responsible for.

As the world watched on, many wondered how this latest attack against the Jewish people would end.

Surely Israel must negotiate.

What other choice was open to them?

As negotiations continued between the Israeli government and the hijackers, secret preparations were also underway within Israel regarding possible military options open to them.

In a meeting between the then Defence Minister Shimon Perez and General Benjamin Peled, commander of the Israeli Air Force, Peled is reported to have asked his immediate superior:

“What do you want? That we conquer Entebbe or the entire country?”

 


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