40 years ago today, June 27th 1976, an airplane was hijacked leading to Operation Entebbe
40 years later - this morning, for the first time, the Defense Minister during the operation Shimon Peres got together with the Children of Entebbe, who were rescued during this bold military operation
During this meeting the children shared their memories of the seven days that they spent in Uganda: Shay, who remembers the shouts of the German terrorists, Tzipi, who lost her father in the operation, Anat, whose mother threw a mattress over her during the rescue to protect her life, and Ada, who to this day still gets scared when she hears her children playing with guns
Peres said to the Children of Entebbe: "Everyone speaks about the operation– today we honor you - when we made the difficult decision to move forward with this operation it was you, the children, who were foremost in my mind"
"When I heard that the terrorists separated out the Jewish hostages I was furious, and I knew that we would not surrender! Operation Entebbe was the most important military operation in the history of the Israeli army and it raised our prestige around the world."
Anat Brodesky Charniak, who was 6: "I remember running and fleeing for our lives – thank you for saving our lives"
Tzipi Cohen, who was 8.5 and lost her father during the rescue: "From the moment we landed in Israel I felt a heavy weight, everyone was celebrating the success of the operation and I was left without my father"
By request of the children, Sorin Hershko was granted a certificate of honor at the event, as he was paralyzed for life during the rescue operation
The Ninth President Shimon Peres, who served as Defense Minister during Operation Entebbe and headed the military operation, this morning participated in an emotional event that gathered together, for the first time, the Children of Entebbe, who were flying with their families on vacation and were kidnapped on Air France flight 139 to Paris, exactly 40 years ago today (27 June 1976). Peres asked to mark 40 years by giving the spotlight to the children, as many of them have never shared their story of captivity, and to mark their bravery during the abduction and weeklong captivity with their families in Entebbe.
During the event, Peres shared with the children the difficult political decisions he had to make as Defense Minister during Operation Entebbe and said: "From the moment I heard about the hijacking I knew that we must do everything possible to free you and bring you back home. We had very little information to go on. My blood boiled when I heard that the terrorists separated out the Jewish and German captives – at that moment I decided no more! They called the military branch that I oversaw the "fantasy branch", many doubted the ability of the IDF to carry out this mission, fearing that there was no precedent for such an operation, but I knew all along that it was possible. Operation Entebbe is one of the most calculated and important in Israeli history, and raised the prestige of the IDF throughout the world."
Tzipi, who lost her father in the operation, said that: "When you are a child your memories of the operation are memories of a child. I will never forget Jean-Jacques Maimon, who was 19, playing with us like a teacher, and distracting us with five stones made from Coca-Cola caps. I remember my mother yelling "run" during the rescue, and the soldiers giving us candy. When we arrived in Israel everyone was so happy about the rescue, and I was alone, a child without a father."
Ella Reizenkovitz, who was 5.5 and was excited to share her homecoming experiences: "I remember the moment we returned home, and how the entire staircase leading up to my room was decorated by our neighbors."
Shay Gross, who was 6 years old, said: "I remember the screams of the terrorists in German. My mother hid me under her skirt. I asked her, "Mom, does it hurt to die?"
Ada Atzmon, who was 16, shared the moments of the rescue: "Once we heard the explosions and shots, as a child you feel that everything is lost. I will never forget what the soldiers were saying: 'We are the IDF, we have come to bring you home. Listen to the soldiers' instructions.'
Benny Davidson, who was 13 years old, shared how he was flying to go celebrate his bar mitzvah with his family, and his grandmother gave him a notebook that became a calendar and journal during his mother's captivity. "My father did not want the terrorists to know that he was a navigator in the Air Force, so we ate his air force ID, which was made of paper."
Peres, who was Defense Minister at the time, was joined by Ms. Dalia Rabin, daughter of Yitzhak Rabin, who was then Prime Minister, and together they listened to the emotional stories and testimonies and viewed an exhibition of personal items that the Children of Entebbe brought with them. The children's families and friends were invited to the event, some of whom also heard the full story from their loved ones for the first time.
Ms. Rabin said at the event: "This is a very moving moment for me. The operation felt like science fiction, I know there were doubts, that the decision was difficult. I am sure that you knew in your hearts, along with all of the hostages, that Israel would not abandon you."
The children who attended the event were all between the ages of 5.5 – 13 during the hijacking and Operation Entebbe: Shay celebrated his sixth birthday during his captivity and named his son Yoni in honor of Yoni Netanyahu, Benny was on his way to celebrate his bar mitzvah with family, Tzipi returned after the operation without a father as he was killed during the rescue, Dana and Anat, two sisters who were ages six and ten and spent their week in captivity following a normal routine playing games with other children, Ada, who was 16, and Ella, who was only five and a half when she was abducted just four days after returning to Israel and leaving again on a planned family trip to Paris.
Photos by Silvia Golan