It’s my guess that a lot of people think that they know what happened in ‘that’ rescue but I doubt that many know it in as much detail as I do now that I have read this terrific book by Saul David.
“…I decided to write it unfolding in real time, with the narrative shifting from the sweltering Old Terminal at Entebbe, where the hostages were kept, to the cabinet rooms of the governments involved (particularly Israel), the houses of the hostages’ families, the headquarters of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), the airport in Paris where the released hostages were debriefed, the bases of the soldiers chosen to spearhead the rescue force and, finally, the C-130 Hercules planes that were used to ferry the rescue force to Entebbe. The intention was to convey the unbearable tension felt by all involved as the clock ticked towards the final, bloody denouement….The result is, I hope, an exciting true story that is exhaustively researched yet reads more like a novel than a traditional history…”
That is what Saul David planned and set out to do and he has done it – or has done it as well as I guess one can. One obviously cannot fully convey the ‘unbearable tension’, the horror of the situation. Remember, this was in the 1970’s, a decade during which Arab groups and their sympathisers were hijacking and taking hostages with bloody consequences (eg Lod/Ben Gurion Airport Massacre 1972 which involved the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], terrifyingly for the Entebbe hostages, the same group that spearheaded the Air France hijack which was the start of their nightmare). 1976 was also, and I think that this is important to bear in mind, just 31 years after the liberation of the Nazi extermination camps. Imagine (not that you can unless you were in one of the camps) the horror (I repeat that word but it is the right one) of being a Jew and/or an Israeli in Entebbe and being removed from the group of hostages simply because you are Jewish/Israeli, being ‘selected’ for a move to another room in Entebbe Airport’s ‘Old Terminal’. Horror which cannot be fully conveyed but David does as well as is possible. He does very well!
Tension, suspense, speed, it’s all here, David achieves it. He moves, minute by minute sometimes, from location to location, the reader is in many places simultaneously. Very clever writing. David provides not just a window into the scenes, windows into the European Government Cabinet meetings, windows into the rooms in which the hostages were enduring a living hell, windows into the bellies of the C-130 Hercules planes as they were flying towards Entebbe. David’s narrative puts the reader into those scenes, into the rooms with the hostages, into the meetings, into the planes.
So, plenty of drama. Full marks – but I also learnt a lot. I read, some time ago, “Yoni’s Last Battle” by one of his brothers, Iddo Netanyahu. That is a terrific book and, of course, it reveals, in some detail, what happened before and during the rescue mission but it was, as it was meant to be, more about Yoni Netanyahu than the mission itself. Lt.-Col. Yonotan ‘Yoni’ Netanyahu, Commander of Sayeret Matkal, the ‘Unit’ which spearheaded the rescue mission, was the only member of the rescue team killed during the mission. Saul David’s book, as the title suggests, is about the mission.
It is common knowledge that the then Israeli Defence Minister, Shimon Peres, and the then Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, were not best buddies (though I believe that they ‘made up’ later on in their lives) and the reader sees a lot of the strained relationship in this book. They had very differing opinions as to how the hijack/hostage-taking should be handled and we also discover Menachem Begin’s position and his views on what was happening. I’ll say no more on that in this book recommendation as I don’t want to spoil it for the reader.
Idi Amin, the then President of Uganda, he features, of course, very much in the book. All I’ll say here, again because I don’t want to spoil it for the reader, is that although I knew that he was not one of nature’s gents, I now know how appalling he was! I think he must have been a psychopath – what he did, when I read about it, it left me cold! He was an absolute monster!!
Also, I don’t think I realized/knew/remembered, before I read the book, that hostages were killed. I think that my being told, as I was growing up, about the success of the mission (and, of course, it was – overall – an incredible success), I think I always believed that Yoni Netanyahu was the only one who was killed. I now know that whilst he was the only member of the rescue force who was killed (and, in the circumstances, that is incredible), 4 hostages also lost their lives. That is, though, also staggering in the circumstances, that it was ‘only’ 4 but that ‘only 4’ will have been no consolation to the families of those who didn’t come back alive.
So, a rip-roaring read, tension, suspense, horror and a history lesson to boot.
A great read!