Articles - Operation Entebbe
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Articles - Operation Entebbe
The Dramatic Rescue of Air France Flight 139
 

Producing Films in Israel

Producer and expert in film production in Israel, Sharon Schaveet explains her company’s strengths. “At Biblical Productions we assist production companies from all over the world in their pre production research and identification of just the right people for interview. Pre production in Israel is our specialty and we not only see the bigger picture but also make sure we have an eye for the finer details. Every new project is an exciting new venture and we relish the challenge of providing film crews with the best service Israel has to offer.”

“The types of production and topics covered by our crews are diverse. I have picked out below an example of a dramatic documentary we worked on – the famous Entebbe rescue.”

The Story Unfolds – A Foiled Attack

Nairobi, Kenya, 25th January 1976. Air traffic controllers at Embakasi Airport awaited El Al flight 535 from Israel. At the same time, a group of five terrorists - three Palestinian and two German - made their way to the airport. They had with them a ‘Sam 7’ ground-to-air missile which they intended using to bring down the aircraft. In spite of their plans, the flight landed safely - Kenya’s security service had caught wind of the plot in the nick of time, and arrested the terrorists.

As soon as the Israeli government were made aware of the incident, Mossad, the world-renowned intelligence service, were dispatched to the scene. At six thirty the next morning the terrorists were injected with powerful sedatives, placed in coffins and flown to Israel on the very airplane they had intended to destroy. When they awoke, the terrorists found themselves in Israeli hands, incarcerated in a top security jail. Their capture was kept secret.

The attempted Nairobi attack was a joint operation between the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the German, Baader Meinhof terrorist group. It had taken months of training.

When the intended heroes of the mission went missing, the humiliation was too much for PFLP leader, Wadia Hadad, to bear. For him, the failure in Nairobi was not the closing of a chapter but the opening of a new one. There would not be too long a wait before his attempt at retribution was carried out.

The Second Attempt

On a cool summer morning, Air France flight 139 took off from Tel Aviv, bound for Paris, via Athens.

As the plane approached Athens, fifty-eight passengers were waiting to board, among them four terrorists - two German and two Palestinian. They were about to execute a plan that had taken six months to prepare; this time they believed there would be no failure.

There were no security inspections and nobody was on duty at the metal detector. The passengers moved freely into the departure lounge and on to the aircraft.

At noon the flight was airborne once more, with 246 passengers on board. Shortly after take-off, the terrorists made their move. They took over the passenger cabin and Wilfried Boese, a member of Baader Meinhof, burst into the cockpit.

Athens informed Tel Aviv that they had lost radio contact with flight 139 and feared it might have been hijacked.

At first it looked like a repeat of an event that had taken place four years earlier. In May 1972 a Sabena flight was hijacked and taken to Tel Aviv by Palestinian terrorists. They had demanded the release of prisoners from Israeli jails but the Israeli government had refused and launched a rescue operation.

Dressed as airport technicians, an elite Israeli commando unit, led by Ehud Barak, who was later to become the Israeli Prime Minister, took over the plane. In a matter of seconds, two terrorists were dead, two were captured and all the passengers were free.

But the hijackers of Air France flight 139 had no intention of being interrupted; they had a mission to complete.

The Hijackers Take Control

Flight 139 contacted air traffic control at Benghazi airport, requesting to land. The Libyans give their permission.

In Tel Aviv, the hijack of the Air France plane was confirmed as a terrorist act. Ehud Barak wondered what could be done but it was clear that nothing was possible in the short term.

The Israelis thought Libya, a terror-supporting country, was the final destination for flight 139. They were taken by surprise when, after seven hours at Benghazi, having refueled for a long onward flight, the airbus took off for an unknown destination. Not all the passengers were on board; Patricia Hyman, a British citizen, told the terrorists that she was pregnant and bleeding. They let her go.

It was gradually becoming clear that flight 139 was heading far away from the Middle East. The pilot, Bacos, grew nervous. He told the hijackers that they were running out of fuel. An hour later, its fuel tanks almost dry, the airbus touched down at Entebbe in Uganda.

After they stopped the engines, a group of Palestinians arrived to relieve the hijackers.

Events at Entebbe

In the summer of 1976 Uganda was no friend of Israel’s. Its dictator, Idi Amin, severed all diplomatic relations when Israel refused to sell him combat aircraft, which he had planned to use to bomb Kenya and Tanzania. Shimon Peres was the Israeli Defense Minister at the time and considered Idi Amin to be wild and unpredictable.

At Entebbe, the hostages had been moved from the aircraft into the old terminal building. Later that day Idi Amin arrived and made a speech in favor of the Palestinians, endorsing their aims. He was at the height of his power. Only three days earlier he had dissolved the Ugandan parliament and declared himself president for life.

The Ugandan dictator said that the hostages would be safe if Israel complied with the terrorists’ demands. As a show of goodwill he allowed one of them, Mrs Dora Bloch, who was ill, to be taken to a hospital in Kampala.

In Israel, everything was on the brink of chaos. The hostages seemed to be far beyond the reach of their country and it seemed as if the terrorists were winning.

Israel Considers Her Response

Prime Minister Rabin called an emergency meeting of his cabinet. As they were about to start, they received the hijackers’ demands; a preliminary list of terrorists held in Israel, France and Germany, to be released in exchange for the hostages now held in Entebbe.

At last they knew the price. They also knew who was asking for it; the PFLP.
A deadline had been set for Thursday, July 1 at 2:00pm. If their demands were not met by then, the terrorists threatened to kill the hostages.

Prime Minister Rabin asked the IDF Chief-of-Staff, General Mota Gur, to determine whether he thought that the hostages could be rescued.

Unlike his fellow ministers, Shimon Peres was convinced that a rescue operation was the only option. He began to piece together an image of the Ugandan dictator. Years earlier, Idi Amin trained in Israel. Peres called upon the officers who were in charge of him. Peres invited the chief officer to describe Amin and found out that Amin’s mother had told him never to kill Jews, as well as the fact that he wanted to get the Nobel Peace Prize. One officer in particular, Colonel Burka Bar Lev, knew him well.

Peres asked him to get in touch with Idi Amin and start negotiations. Burka Bar Lev told Idi Amin that the Israelis were ready to negotiate and release prisoners in exchange for the hostages. He asked for Idi Amin’s help in solving the crisis. He was promised everything, from the Nobel Peace Prize to a place in Paradise.

The Government of Israel forwarded the hijackers’ demands to France and Germany but both refused to release terrorists from their prisons.

Freedom for the Lucky Few

At the Old Terminal a new drama was beginning to unfold. The German, Wilfried Boese, appeared with a list in his hand and began to read out the names of those held hostage. His action brought back uncomfortable memories from the Holocaust.

Forty seven non-Jewish hostages were allowed to leave but Captain Bacos and his crew did not go with them. Bacos later commented, “We discussed it and agreed to stay.”

The next day the rescue flight containing the non Jewish passengers arrived in France. The released hostages disembarked and celebrated in the arms of their families.

Mossad asked the French Government for permission to question them. The French were fully co-operative and in the midst of the jubilation, Mossad agents discreetly gathered information about the hostages and their surroundings.

The information gathered in Paris was immediately transmitted to Tel Aviv.
They had verified that the Ugandans were co-operating with the terrorists and had also learned the layout of the building.

A Plan Materializes

As they gathered intelligence, Mossad discovered that part of Entebbe airport was built by an Israeli construction company, Solel Boneh. The blueprints were quickly obtained and closely studied. By noon, intelligence officers and commando leaders were beginning to assemble a rescue plan.

A lot of ideas were thrown into the air but it was agreed that the most important factor was maintaining the element of surprise. If this was achieved, they felt that whatever plan they chose could succeed.

The various plans were outlined to Prime Minister Rabin, who was a stickler for detail. If he felt a plan was viable he would go along with it. If he was not confident then he would reluctantly negotiate.

To the outside world, Rabin presented a defeated image. In Cabinet he proposed a resolution to negotiate with the terrorists. It was passed by a substantial majority.

With news of the Cabinet resolution, and only ninety minutes left before the deadline, Peres asked Burka Bar Lev to contact Idi Amin and to plead for an extension. Amin responded by postponing the ultimatum by three days, to two o’clock on July 4th.

The Israeli government promoted the notion that they didn’t have a choice and were about to give in to the terrorists’ demands.

They wanted to give the terrorists a false sense of comfort and convince them that they had succeeded. This plan seemed to be working as, following on from the deadline extension, the Ugandans informed Captain Bacos that Israel was ready to negotiate.

Gathering Vital Intelligence

Although they now knew a great deal about Entebbe, there were still many gaps in their knowledge and no-one knew if the layout of the airport had changed in the four years since the Israeli Air Force was last there.

Ehud Barak and Mossad operatives were sent to Kenya. Mossad launched a brilliant emergency intelligence gathering operation. Mossad contacted Bruce McKenzie, a former MI6 operative and a friend of Israel, who lived in Nairobi. He had his own aircraft and knew Entebbe well. With McKenzie’s help, a Mossad pilot flew over the airfield and photographed it. The pictures he took would prove vital in what was to follow.

A Rescue Team is Put Together

Two IDF officers, Brigadier General Dan Shomron, Commanding Officer of the Paratroops and Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Netanyahu, known as “Yoni” were put in charge of the operation.

Shomron and Netanyahu worked together with the Air Force on the rescue plan. By the end of the day the plan was complete; four Hercules aircraft would fly to Entebbe, take over the airport and bring the hostages home.

That night they presented the plan to Prime Minister Rabin and Defense Minister Peres. By midnight, the pilots and crews had been chosen and notified; all were hand picked, based on their professional knowledge and operational skills.

The pictures of Entebbe airport taken from the air were studied and a full scale model of the terminal building was built. The commando unit used it for training, storming the model time and time again until they had perfected their moves.

Moki Betzer, who had spent time in Uganda in the past, came up with the brilliant idea of using a Mercedes and two Land Rovers to ferry the raiding force into the terminal. No-one would interfere with such a convoy, which resembled a military convoy.

The Rescue Commences

On Saturday morning, one day before the extended deadline expired, the Cabinet met to make a final decision. One hour after the meeting, the four aircraft were on the runway and ready to strike.

The photos of Entebbe taken by Mossad arrived at the last minute and were pushed into the pilots’ hands on the tarmac.

On Saturday July 3rd at 13:20 they took off on what was to be the most daring operation ever undertaken by Israel - or anybody else since. The four Hercules jets flew very low, beneath any possible hostile radar. Unlike many military operations, there was no quick adrenalin buzz for the team; the flight was long and nerve-wracking.

At 23:01 the first aircraft touched down at Entebbe. The Mercedes and the two Land Rovers made their way quietly down the ramp, carrying the first detachment of commandos. They drove towards the Old Terminal building, looking like an ordinary Ugandan officer’s convoy. But the illusion was not completely successful.

One of the Ugandan soldiers guessed what was going on, and had to be shot. Once this first shot was fired the commandos began their mission, storming the terminal building.

A Dramatic Finale

In fifty seconds the terrorists were dead. Three of the hostages were also caught in the cross-fire and killed. But the fighting was not over - Ugandan soldiers were still firing from the top of the control tower and one of them hit Yoni Netanyahu. Shortly after eleven in the evening, Yoni Netanyahu died.

One of the hostages later reported, “We waited until the soldiers had finished their work. One of them said, in English, “Get up, we’re going home.” Vehicles were provided to transport some of the elderly hostages but I ran to the Hercules. There were bullets everywhere. I prayed that we wouldn’t get hit. We went on board and this is when I saw Yoni’s body.”

As the Hercules containing rescued hostages took off, a group of commandos destroyed all the Ugandan Air Force Mig jets on the tarmac, preventing pursuit. These eleven Migs comprised the whole Ugandan Air Force!

Fifty minutes after the first rescue plane had landed, the hostages were airborne and on their way home.

In contrast to the jubilation from the successful rescue, Mrs Dora Bloch was still in her hospital bed in Kampala. Although thought to be safe this was sadly not the case, as a fuming Amin, seeking revenge, had her murdered.

One of the rescue team later described his feelings on board the return journey, “I sat on the plane and had to pinch myself to show that it’s not a dream. The action allowed no emotion. The first time I felt some reaction was when we heard above Addis Ababa on the BBC World Service that the raid had succeeded. I realized what we had done.”

On Sunday morning, seven days and three hours after they took off, the passengers from Air France flight 139 finally returned home to Tel Aviv; to freedom.

Filming Inspiration

This story is so dramatic and has many interesting facets to it;

- human interest from the perspective of the government, rescue team, hostages;
- the work of Mossad and the Israeli military;
- the culture and ethics of Israel as a nation, unwilling to blindly accept the fate of endangered citizens.

A broad range of documentaries can be filmed on location in Israel. Clips can be compiled using key people from the story and shot on location. Biblical Productions can organize your access to such people and places; enhancing your production, giving you that extra special edge and really bringing your story to life.

Already established as logistical and industry experts, we also provide specialist services to clients, including an ever-growing data bank filled with a range of experts and historical figures. We work with you to determine who would interview best – in terms of their connection to your story, as well as their presentation skills. We can then negotiate for them to be part of your production.

Filming in Israel

Biblical Productions is a leading company in the field of production services, based in Israel. We cover all areas of film and television production, including documentaries, feature films, commercials, music videos and promotional films.

Biblical Productions guides you during your shoot in Israel - from the pre-production planning to the post-production wrap. We arrange professional crews, fixers, permits, HD equipment rental, interviews, location scouting and more.

Biblical Productions also boasts a large collection of high-quality archival footage, making it a one-stop shop for all your production services in Israel. Please view our client list

‘Biblical Productions: The number once choice for production services in Israel.'