Remembering 4th of July Entebbe hostage rescue

A crowd lifts the squadron leader of the July 4 1976 Entebbe hostage rescue planes on their return to Israel. (PHOTO: David Rubinger/Corbis via Getty Images/The Guardian)

Today as I woke I remembered that it is the 4th of July, the day celebrated in the United States as Independence Day. This year marks 248 years since the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It is a day to remember and celebrate the courage of leaders who rose up in their generation to change the course of their own history and the history of the world.

However, there is another heroic event that took place on the soil of this continent, exactly 200 years after the US Declaration of Independence – the Entebbe Rescue Mission. An Air France plane travelling from Tel-Aviv to Paris was hijacked during a scheduled stopover in Athens.

The hijacked plane, with many Israelis and Jews among its 248 passengers, was flown to Bengazi, Lybia for refuelling before heading for Uganda, where Idi Amin was president at that time.

Idi Amin was the most outspoken anti-Israel president in the continent. He had expelled Jews from Uganda in 1972 and was instrumental in putting pressure on African nations to cut ties with Israel in 1973 following the Yom Kippur war. In 1975 he was elected chairman of the OAU.

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Following its independence in 1948, Israel worked closely to build relations with newly-liberated African nations. Israel was involved in a number of development projects and partnerships with various African nations. Uganda was one of the countries that enjoyed good relations with Israel. As result of these warm ties, Idi Amin was among those who received paratrooper training in Israel.

Amin declared himself president of Uganda in 1971 after leading a military coup to remove President Milton Obote, who was about to arrest him for corruption. Under Amin’s leadership Uganda moved from having good relations with Israel and western nations to becoming an outspoken enemy of Israel with the backing of Gaddafi of Libya, the Soviet Union and East Germany.

The hijacked Air France plane landed in Uganda with Amin’s blessing and military support. 148 non-Israeli passengers were released and about 94 passengers (mostly Israelis and some non-Israeli Jews) and 12 crew members were held hostage at the Entebbe airport. In exchange for the release of these 106 hostages, the hijackers demanded the release of over 40 Palestinian prisoners in Israel and 13 in other countries. If these demands were not met they promised to kill all the hostages on July 1 — a deadline which was later extended to noon on July 4.

The late Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, pictured after the dramatic rescue of Israeli hostages at Entebbe Airport (PHOTO: Nation)

While the leadership in Israel was considering conceding to the “hostage-prisoner exchange deal” that was demanded by the hijackers, a decision was made to take a big risk and rescue the hostages before daybreak on July 4. The stakes were high and it could have ended in total disaster, but within 90 minutes 102 hostages were successfully rescued. A female passenger who had been taken to hospital was later murdered by Ugandan authorities. Only one Israeli soldier died in Entebbe — Yonathan Nethanyahu, the commander in charge of the rescue operation and brother to current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu was killed. Five other soldiers were wounded.

After the rescue mission, Amin, in his anger, ordered the killing of Kenyans in Uganda because Kenya had assisted Israel by allowing them to use their airspace and airport. Israeli commando planes were able to refuel in Nairobi and fly below the radar within Kenyan airspace, which made them undetectable in Uganda before they landed.

As I pondered the events of this day in history, I couldn’t help but think of current events. Today, 48 years later, under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whose brother led the Entebbe rescue operation, Israel once again faces an almost impossible task of rescuing hostages held in Gaza.

Israelis being taken hostage by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Be’eri on October 7

In Africa, Idi Amin is no more but the ANC government in South Africa rose in his place as an African voice against Israel. Unfortunately for us, Africa paid a big price for Idi Amin’s decision to be part of this hijacking incident. Not only did Africa lose the lives of those soldiers who fought alongside the hijackers against Israel, but Amin ordered the killing of Kenyans who lived in Uganda. Approximately 245 Kenyans were killed and over 3 000 fled the country. Ugandans themselves were not spared the wrath of Amin — many were killed and those who survived had to live under a very oppressive and brutal regime.

We don’t know how the current hostage rescue mission will end but history always gives us clues and teaches us lessons. May the current players in this situation learn from the past and make the right decisions today.

I suppose the least one can do now, as we remember the events of the 4th of July in history, 248 years ago in the United States and 48 years ago in Uganda with the miraculous Entebbe rescue mission – is to pray for the miraculous rescue and release of those held captive in Gaza, in order to bring an end to this war that is causing devastation and pain both in Gaza and in Israel.

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One Comment

  1. Ndileka Va

    We are greatful to God for you Tsego, I would have never had this kind of knowledge which gives me an understanding in my prayer standing for Israel. May God bless you, keep you as an ambassador of the heavens on earth in your generation. Thank you.

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