New stories and details about the IDF's daring 1976 Entebbe raid emerged at a commemoration event held today (Monday) on the 40-year anniversary of the operation. Former President Shimon Peres — who was Defense Minister at the time, and supervised the operation — put a special emphasis on the story of the children, taken hostage with their families while on their way to vacations on board Air France flight 139 to Paris on this day 40 years ago (June 27th 1967). Peres wanted those children, now parents themselves, to share their experiences from the time of the plane's hijacking and the week spent in captivity.
Peres himself first spoke about the decision-making process leading up to the operation. "From the moment the plane was hijacked I resolved to do absolutely everything to get you back home. It was a "blind" operation, based on very sparse information about your whereabouts. My blood boiled when I heard that Jews and Germans were being separated–that was the point where I decided "No more!". The military staff of which I was in charge at the time was called the "Fantasy staff", because many didn't believe the IDF has the ability to pull off this mission, as it was unprecedented. I always knew it was possible. The soldiers studied the route to Entebbe by heart like their grandfathers used to study Gemara. Operation Entebbe is one of the greatest and most important in the history of Israel and it showcased the poise and bravery of the IDF for the whole world to see."
Shai Gross, who was only 6 years old at the time told of a blessing from then Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren that strengthened his family's courage during that week in captivity. "My 13-year-old brother had stayed in Israel and got a special prayer from R' Goren to recite on Friday night. As my brother was reading out this prayer my grandmother put her head into the ark in the synagogue and cried out "God, you took all of my family in the Holocaust, don't take them from me again." After the fact, when we returned home, R' Goren said that it was this prayer that gave my family the strength to make it through."
Tzipi Cohen, who lost her father during the operation, recounted: "When you're a child your memories from the raid are those of a child. I will never forget Jean Jacque Maimoni z"l who was 19, and played with us like a kindergarten teacher, keeping us busy with games played with 5 Coke caps. I remember my mother screaming "Run!" when the rescue was happening, and the candies the soldiers gave us. When we got to Israel everyone was happy at the rescue, and I was left a girl without a father, forever."
All of the "children" who attended the event were between the ages of 5.5-13 at the time. Shai, who celebrated his sixth birthday in captivity and named his son Yoni in honor of Yoni Netanyahu (the commander of the rescue operation); Benny, who was on his way to a family vacation to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah; Tzipi, who, at 8 years old, returned home without a father after he was killed during the rescue; Dana and Anat, two sisters who were six and ten and spoke about their daily routine during their week in captivity and the games they played with the other children; and Ella, who was only five and a half when she was abducted, and actually went with her family on the vacation in Paris they had originally planned, leaving 4 days after their return to Israel.