'7 Days in Entebbe' has world premiere in Berlin

In new film, Jewish director challenges Israeli version of 1976 Entebbe rescue

Jose Padilha casts Yoni Netanyahu in less-than-heroic light, tells story from terrorists’ perspective in movie likely to spark controversy

A new feature film challenges the widely accepted narrative regarding the 1976 Israeli rescue mission in Entebbe, Uganda, including by casting the brother of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a far less heroic light than the way in which he has been portrayed thus far.

“7 Days in Entebbe” also stands out by telling the story not from the IDF soldiers’ point of view, but from that of the terrorists. Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruhl star as two German terrorists who join forces with members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine out of sympathy for the Palestinians.

In the July 4, 1976, operation, IDF forces rescued the hostages taken captive on June 27 by terrorists who hijacked an Air France jet from Tel Aviv to Paris. The plane was diverted to Uganda, where the hijackers were welcomed by dictator Idi Amin.

The raid saw the rescue of 98 hostages. Four hostages were killed during the operation, as was Yonatan Netanyahu, elder brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was the sole Israeli soldier killed during the raid at the Ugandan airport.

Then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (c), with then-defense minister Shimon Peres, directly to Rabin’s right, speaking with what looks like one of the Air France crew members, after the rescue from Entebbe, July 4, 1976. (Courtesy IDF Archive)

The film had its world premiere in Berlin on Monday, with its Jewish Brazilian director Jose Padilha (“Narcos”) insisting that his version of events was more accurate than the narrative reflected in several Israeli films, which showed Netanyahu playing a heroic role in the operation before being shot toward its end.

In the new movie, Netanyahu (Angel Bonanni) plays a minor role and is killed by a Ugandan soldier shortly after the mission begins.

Defense Minister Shimon Peres (r) with Prime Minster Yitzhak Rabin welcoming the released Entebbe hostages upon their return to Israel on July 4, 1976. (Defense Ministry Archives)

Padilha said in a press conference that he had relied on facts provided to him by former Israeli commandos who participated in the raid, including Amir Ofer, one of the first commandos to storm the terminal, who was recruited as a technical adviser.

“I prefer to rely on the version of people who were there rather than the version of people who were not there,” Padilha said.

Yoni Netanyahu, in a photograph taken shortly before his death at Entebbe in 1976 (Wikipedia)

“It was very important to me to try to get as many details right as possible,” he earlier told Hollywood Reporter.

“We talked to lots of people who were there at the time, including five or six soldiers who were part of the raid itself. The criteria was to run with direct witnesses, as opposed to people who said ‘I heard’ or ‘I believe’ it was like this. So I think we are close to the truth.”

Ofer himself told the publication that “of course it’s still a movie, so there needed to be some additional material. But [Padilha] really was looking to create the most authentic depiction of the operation itself.”

Brazilian director Jose Padilha attends a press conference for the film “7 Days in Entebbe” presented in competition during the 68th Berlinale film festival on February 19, 2018 in Berlin. (AFP PHOTO / Stefanie Loos)

“Terrorists have a conscience, terrorists are human beings,” said Padilha, according to Hadashot TV. “They are human beings who made a great mistake, they are doing something terrible, unforgivable, but they are human beings. If I portray terrorists as inhuman, I’m crazy.”

Several Israeli actors star in the new movie, Hadashot reported Monday, including Lior Ashkenazi, who plays prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. The movie highlights the many dilemmas facing Rabin during the operation, some regarding his rivalry with defense minister Shimon Peres.

Screenwriter Gregory Burke also relied on historian Saul David’s book, “Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport,” Hollywood Reporter said.

“It’s not a narrative that the Israeli prime minister is going to like at all,” David told the publication. “He’s put a lot of pressure, even on people who are involved in the story. I mean he hasn’t actually said, ‘Change the story.’ But, ‘This is the way it happened, didn’t it’?”

“The Israeli version of events about Entebbe that always played out is that Yoni is the great hero of the story,” David added. “Well, the reality is he’s a player in the story, but he’s probably not the most significant player. And there are certain errors that he makes during the operation itself.”

Padilha also criticized current Israeli and Palestinian leaderships and US President Donald Trump during his comments at the film premiere.

“In this recurrent conflict, it’s very easy for politicians to present themselves as protecting people against the enemy, but once you frame the relationship as enemies it becomes hard to negotiate and that’s still true today,” Padilha said, according to Deadline.

“There is a constant state of fear in both Israeli and Palestinian populations because of the conflict and this fear is preyed upon by right wing politicians, kind of like Trump who is going to build a wall to defend American from whomever, I don’t know,” he added.

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