I did not watch “Seven Days in Entebbe” and I don’t intend to.
When the trailer came out my first reaction was excitement. This story is one of the best, breathtaking, exciting, moving, against-all-odds, adventure stories I have ever heard and, best of all – it’s real. And it’s OURS.
My second reaction to the trailer was concern. Would the producers tell the story correctly or would it be distorted into something else? Would they tell of the heroism of the Israelis who flew to the edge of the world to rescue their own, knowing that the lives of Jews can never be left to the mercy of others? Or would this extraordinary story be twisted into something different, some morally-relative political distortion of reality that could even turn into some type of anti-Israel propaganda?
And then the movie came out and I began to hear the reviews.
To my revulsion, I heard that my concerns had become reality. The producers, in their desire to “tell all sides of the story as realistically as possible” had, in essence, made the terrorist hijackers, the heroes and reduced Yoni Netanyahu to a shadow of who he was. I heard survivors of the hijacking express their dismay at how their story was perverted.
What really caught my attention was an interview with one of the Israeli actors featured in the movie. Lior Ashkenazi plays Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in the movie. Like most of Israel’s actors, Ashkenazi is known to belong to the political left. In the past, he has played leading roles in controversial movies that depicted Israel and particularly the IDF in a negative light. While Ashkenazi adamantly defended his role in the movie “Foxtrot,” declaring that the depiction of the IDF was intended as an allegory and not truly negative, his response to “Seven Days in Entebbe” was hair-raising. When asked to address the accusations that the movie turned the terrorists into heroes and diminished the legacy of Yoni Netanyahu, Ashkenazi’s response was: “You know, when you are an actor and get sent an international screenplay, what you do is flip through it and see how many lines your character has… You know, there’s the story in the script, the story in the filming and the story in the editing…”
I watched the television interview in amazement. I fully expected the actor to adamantly defend the film but instead, this normally eloquent man was squirming, stuttering and stumbling over his words. The best he could do was explain that the movie was created by people with a different perspective, one that is not an Israeli perspective.
Various Israeli reporters (who all tend to be left-leaning) have discussed the movie and everyone I heard described feelings ranging from discomfort to anger at what they saw.
The more I thought about it, the more upset I became. The stories of Israel are powerful. From the beginning of our Nation, our stories have affected, influenced and changed the world for the better. Now our stories are being appropriated, turned inside out and upside-down, creating a completely different and terribly distorted reality.
It is becoming common to see miraculous Israel presented as a mistake or even an evil. Heroic survivors are being turned into the new-Nazis and one of the most daring rescue operations in history is now being presented as the result of an understandable hijacking by “freedom fighters” – like the rape victim who “had it coming” because she wore a short skirt in a dark alley.
My history, the history of my people, is being rewritten in order to steal our future.
Dehumanize, delegitimize, destroy.
This is dangerous and very wrong. But what could I do? Seven Days in Entebbe was produced and released. A generation of movie-goers will believe that what they see is “the truth” about the Rescue at Entebbe.
My rebellion was to delve into history and watch Operation Thunderbolt, the original, Israeli film made about the rescue at Entebbe in 1977.
Old, obviously produced with a low budget and including some funny casting choices, this film has no Hollywood sleekness and ALL of the Israeli spirit. This is what Israel is like. These are what Israel’s elite soldiers are like – not muscular Rambos, they often don’t look like anything special. The best of them are notoriously rumpled looking and casual – they are too good to have to adhere to rules and regulations of how soldiers are supposed to present themselves. Most of all, they have a bond of friendship that stretches beyond comradery into the realm of brotherly love.
I don’t think people who live elsewhere understand the Israeli ideal that comes from Psalms 66:12 of following a leader through fire and water. This is the ideal for IDF Officers, to be the type of leader soldiers will follow, through fire and water, not because they were commanded to do so but because their love of that leader and trust in him compelled them to do so.
Note that this means that the leader goes first. “Achari! After me!” is what the IDF Officer calls out to his soldiers. This is the ideal of Israeli leadership.
Like Yoni Netanyahu.
When Yoni Netanyahu told his soldiers, they were flying in the middle of the night, to Africa, on a secret and extremely dangerous mission to rescue Israeli hostages and that they would succeed – they believed him.
The movie “Operation Thunderbolt” makes it very clear why they were going – to save Jews because they are Jews. Because if they don’t, no one else will save them.
That is what NEVER AGAIN means. Jews, some of them with the concentration camps still very vivid in their memory and tattooed on their arms were hijacked by German terrorists collaborating with the Arab enemy.
This time, unlike the last time, the sons of Israel would swoop in and rescue them.
The raid at Entebbe, first named “Operation Thunderbolt” was later renamed “Operation Yonatan” because Yoni Netanyahu was killed during the mission.
It is not his death that made Yoni a hero, it was the way he lived his life. It was the countless known and unknown missions that he completed for the country, to protect his people. It was his leadership and vision that made the rescue at Entebbe possible. It was his spirit that gave the other soldiers the strength and courage to do their part to make the rescue a success. A combination of skill, courage, teamwork and a series of miracles made it possible for them to pull off one of the most daring rescues in history.
Yoni’s death knocked the wind out of his soldiers.
On the way back to Israel, the soldiers were exultant in their success. They knew that Yoni had been hurt but not that he had died:
“On the plane, there had been endless chatter,” recalls Shlomo, everyone telling what happened to him. It seemed that everything was going great, that we’d succeeded. And then someone came in and said that Yoni had died, and all at once, it seemed as if someone had turned off the entire plane. Everybody was silent… We were hit hard, and each of us withdrew into himself.”
Matan Vilnai, the head of the paratrooper contingent in the raid went over to the hostages’ plane. “I saw Yoni’s body lying in the plane, wrapped in one of those awful aluminum blankets the doctors use,” says Matan. “I saw the hostages completely stunned, shadows of men. They were very depressed. And what hit me then was a kind of feeling that was, for an army man like myself, totally illogical: that if Yoni was dead, then the whole thing wasn’t worth it.”
~excerpts from “Self portrait of a hero” from the letters of Jonathan Netanyahu, notes and afterword by his brothers Iddo and Benjamin Netanyahu
Many Israelis who knew and loved Yoni named their children after him. As did others who had never met Yoni. It was his death that set his brother, Benjamin Netanyahu on the path of politics and ultimately becoming Israel’s Prime Minister.
After I watched Operation Thunderbolt I watched the actual footage of the planes landing with the rescued hostages. I watched the hostages come off the plane. I saw Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin let out an enormous sigh as he waited for them to bring Yoni’s body out. I listened as he and the then Defense Minister, Shimon Peres, talked to Captain Michel Bacos, the French pilot who bravely insisted that he and his crew were staying with the Israeli hostages after they were separated from the other passengers.
When asked if he was surprised to see the IDF rescue team arrive in Entebbe Captain Michel Bacos answered a calm: “No sir.”
To me, that says it all.
At that time the difference between right and wrong was very obvious. Rescuers were heroes, hijackers were terrorists and NEVER AGAIN meant something.
It is this legacy of heroism, leadership, and love that is being turned upside-down. It is the concept of NEVER AGAIN that is being diminished and destroyed.
There is one thing we can do to make sure truth does not die with us. Watch the movie, the ISRAELI movie. Read the book of Yoni’s letters. Learn about the kind of person he was from his words, not those of other people. Teach your children.
It is up to us protect our past, to ensure our future.
This is the full film, with subtitles in English:
This is the book on Amazon
Self-Portrait of a Hero: From the Letters of Jonathan Netanyahu: https://www.amazon.com/Self-Portrait-Hero-Jonathan-Netanyahu-1963-1976/dp/0446674613