Israel brings tourists to Entebbe for first time since legendary hostage rescue

Captain says he remembers hearing the news of 1976 raid when he was a 10-year-old, never believed he would fly to same Ugandan airport

Israeli tourists visit the tower at Entebbe Airport where hostages were held captive in 1976, on February 14, 2019 (Screen grab via NTV)
Israeli tourists visit the tower at Entebbe Airport where hostages were held captive in 1976, on February 14, 2019 (Screen grab via NTV)

For the first time since 1976’s hostage crisis and subsequent Israeli commando raid, an Israeli plane carrying tourists landed Thursday at Uganda’s Entebbe Airport.

Some 250 Israeli nationals came to the African country for a three-day visit, the East Africa Business Week website reported.

They flew in on a Boeing 777, operated by El Al’s subsidiary Sun D’Or.

The airport is now known as the Old Entebbe Airport, as opposed to Uganda’s main Entebbe International Airport.

First Israeli plane lands at Entebbe airport since 1976 raid, February 14, 2019 (Screen grab via NTV)

“On July 5, 1976, I was 10, and like all the Israelis I woke up in the morning and heard about the daring operation that was carried out in Entebbe to free the hostages,” flight captain Itzik Gerber told Channel 12 news.

“If an angel came and whispered in my ear that 13 years later I would fly planes that participated in the operation and that 42 years later I would land at Entebbe as a captain, I would have laughed out loud,” he said, referring to his military service prior to flying planes for Israel’s national carrier.

On June 27, 1976, Palestinian terrorists 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 terrorists freed the non-Jewish passengers immediately upon arrival but the Air France crew members refused the captors’ offer of release and instead chose to remain as hostages with the planes Jewish passengers.

Entebbe hostages come home, July 4, 1976. (IDF archives)

On July 4, 1976, 98 of the hostages were rescued in an operation by elite Israeli commandos. Four hostages were killed during the operation along with Yonatan Netanyahu, elder brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was the sole Israeli soldier killed during the raid.

Most of the terminal where the drama unfolded has since been demolished, although the control tower and airport hall still remain.

The Uganda Tourism Board CEO Stephen Asiimwe said Thursday that he hoped the trip would be a success and lead to more tourists from Israel.

“We are positive that this visit will attract more visitors from Israel and the rest of the world. The two countries have a shared piece of history and we hope to strengthen our travel trade in order to increase the number of Israeli tourist coming to Uganda,” Asiimwe said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew into the airport three years ago, marking the 40th anniversary of the drama. A ceremony that day was attended by members of Knesset, representatives from the IDF’s ground forces and air force, some of the soldiers who fought in Entebbe along with their families, and some surviving hostages and their families.

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