This Friday begins an American national holiday renowned for its jubilance, excessive display and international tribute to the American democracy, the 4th of July. 38 years ago however, during the monolithic and merry American bicentennial, the mood 6,000 miles away, in a little piece of land still recovering from a horrific test of strength during their holiest holiday in 1973, waited in silent anticipation to hear of the fate of their loved ones.
One-hundred and six Jewish hostages were apprehended by a East German terrorist group in cooperation with Palestinian jihadists on June 27, 1976, after diverting their Paris-bound Air France A300 toward Libya, and finally to Entebbe Airport, Uganda, under the supervision of dictator Idi Amin. After several days of intense negotiation and clandestine military scenario planning, diplomatic relations had begun to break down, pleas for prisoner exchanges were denied, the Ugandan army and terrorist fighters were threatening holocaust-like ultimatums, and the Arab world was rallying in ecstatic rage to initiate a third war with Israel.
Come July 4th, the elite Israel Defense Forces’ Sayeret Matkal Recon Unit was en route to Uganda, tossing low in C-130′s over hot tropical sea and through the freezing mountain ranges of northern Africa. Their goal was to land during the night hours at Entebbe, taking advantage of it’s lit runway used for emergency landings, eliminate all of the terrorists, refuel their planes, and bring home the hostages to the Jewish haven of Israel from where they had originally flown.
Gunfire prematurely erupted as the terrorists identified the IDF land rovers and mock limousine, but by the time their shock had taken hold, the terrorists laid in dust and blood. Three Jewish hostages had died in the crossfire, but the rest were relatively unharmed. The renowned Commander leading Sayeret Matkal, Yonatan Netanyahu, only thirty years-old, was mortally wounded and died on the tarmac.
The bold pitch-and-toss of the Israeli commandos has since gone down in legend, reinvigorating Israeli confidence since their near defeat two-and-a-half years prior, etching a selfless, honorable title for the Defense Forces. And since the Entebbe raid, the professional ranks of the IDF have proven themselves in bold rescue missions, terrorist-response operations, and foreign aid campaigns.
Fast forward to 2014, and Israel is faced with a new crisis: the kidnapping of three young Yeshiva students, Gilad Shaer, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach, disappearing from a road in Gush Etzion north of the Palestinian town Hebron, during a week of intense rocket fire erupting from Gaza and other various world-stage SNAFUs that make up the hard life for this ancient strip and its social, religious, and cultural division.
Following a late-response to the kidnappings, the fear of global repercussion and diverted attention to the southern Gaza border, the IDF initiates a massive search with its hands already full. In seeming desperation for political pressure on the Palestinian Authority, the IDF releases the identities of the two suspected terrorists responsible for the kidnapping, and during the third week of the search for the missing, their bodies are found in a ditch not far from the town from where they disappeared.
The Jewish global community is at a loss, and in outrage. The White House maintains its order of “restraint” against a mused-over invasion of the West Bank. Israelis mourn as they hasten the funerals for the three boys per Jewish law, and the Israel Defense Forces, acting vigorously in its mission, has failed. Israel has lost its modern Entebbe.
Public mourning, ongoing investigations on the Israeli Police’s response time, and calls on social reform by rabbis and relatives of the victims now simmer since the overwhelming coverage of the search. I call on the IDF to reclaim its sharp skill of search and rescue, and to once again lead the way in counter-terrorism. To prioritize the defense of its people as their military’s moniker suggests, TzaHal, Tzevah Haganah l’Yisrael, The Defense Forces of Israel, and run the extra kilometer amid its contemporary shortcomings and international embarrassments. We are not looking for another 2006, we do not need another Gilad Schalit scenario, we are not wanting another Hebron kidnapping.
To successfully defend our people, the Israeli people, American, Jewish, Arab, Christian, Druze, we need a new Defense Force capable of the feats of Samson, the cunning of Joshua, and the leadership of Moshe. We need a new motivation, and if this past month and decade has not been enough, what else do we have to further dig us into the pit of shame?
I stand behind the IDF, and thank them for their service. But to become a stronger, more stable nation, it begins with spirit and defense.
Blessed be the memory of Gilad, Naftali, and Eyal, and may G-d console the families among the other mourners of Tzion and Jerusalem. Amen.