“The exile is over”
By Jim Fletcher
It seems appropriate, this single topic celebrating a
single event. We’ll see.
is 60 today. The celebration will be duly noted and enjoyed by anyone who loves
freedom. For those of us who believe the Bible is true, the founding of the
modern state is perhaps the most remarkable fulfillment of prophecy.
Many writers have detailed the return of the Jews to their
land; in our time, they emerged from the blackened ovens to gather their
strength in the land of their forefathers.
Last fall, I had the pleasure of visiting Independence Hall
in Tel Aviv for the first time. It’s quite a scene, yet much smaller and less
grand than it appears in photographs of the time. In 1948, the place was huge in
international perspective. It is where an aging leader, David Ben Gurion, rose
to read the country’s declaration of independence. Crowds were jubilant. For the
discerning observer (not unlike the old priest, Zechariah, who had longed to see
the Messiah and would!), the whole event was carried on the clouds of history,
prophesied by Isaiah.
Wherever one walks in Israel,
the footsteps of heroes are still clearly marked in the sand.
The greatest Israeli hero, for me, will not celebrate the
anniversary of Israel’s
founding. He can’t because he gave the ultimate sacrifice, on the very day of America’s
stupendous celebration of 1976. Our bicentennial was much-anticipated. My family
was like everyone else — eager to commemorate our 200th birthday. My
father was super-patriotic and had anticipated the day.
All that changed when we switched on the television on
Sunday, July 4, 1976. Everything was taking a backseat to the daring Israeli
commando operation in some place called Entebbe. A week before,
Palestinian and German terrorists had hijacked an Air France jetliner in
Athens, then had it flown to faraway
Africa. They released all but the Jewish hostages, so
105 souls huddled under the evil eyes of the terrorists and the Ugandan
dictator, Idi Amin.
Some of you are old enough to remember the Entebbe
raid. For those of you who are not, do what you have to do, but read it.
My father was transfixed. He stared at the television and
said, “The Israelis did it.” He was referring to a nighttime operation, covering
5,000 miles, in which 200 of Israel’s
elite IDF soldiers surprised the terrorists and freed the hostages.
I won’t recount the whole thing here — that would be
impossible. Instead, I’ll tell you about three men who made a deep impression on
me, especially in this time of war and terror.
Two, Surin Hershko and Amir Ofer, live in Israel
today. They were two of the commandos who took part in the raid. I met them
three years ago.
Surin was a 20-year-old sergeant at the time of the raid.
Amir was 21, and was due to be mustered out of the army a week later. Both had
seen action before, including Amir’s participation in the infamous Savoy Hotel
raid a few years before. These men knew first-hand that the terrorists were
cold-blooded killers (something that seems to escape new “leaders” like Barack
Obama). It would be unthinkable for these men to advocate “talking” to
I met Surin at his home in Tel Aviv. He runs a computer
consulting business and does quite well. He has a circle of friends and a
He’s also been a quadriplegic since the night of the raid.
Assigned to secure the new terminal building at the Entebbe
airport, he was moving up a flight of stairs when a man and woman met him on the
way down. Before Surin could fire, the man fired a pistol at him point-blank. He
crumpled to the ground.
I guess some people would feel sorry for Surin. I feel only
On the flight to Entebbe, many of the
veterans remembered that the Israeli Cabinet did not give the green-light for
the operation until the planes were en-route. The commandos did not know if they
were really going to do it, or be called back. I asked Surin if he was afraid
during the flight. He looked me square in the eyes and said:
“I was only afraid they wouldn’t approve the operation. I
wanted to go.”
I don’t know about you, but a personality like this casts a
gargantuan shadow. I felt small, truly. The reason is simple: most people are
timid, in reality. Surin is a fighter.
I’ll say it as bluntly as I can: the Surins of the world
keep the cowards safe. They work behind the scenes, with face-paint, berets,
weapons, and beating hearts — while vapid politicians who say nothing are, well,
Physical safety is an overlooked luxury in today’s world.
Americans…we don’t know how good we have it.
Amir is not someone you’d pick out of a super-hero lineup.
He would be the guy you wouldn’t pick. Not John Wayne. Not Clint Eastwood. Heck,
not even Bruce Willis.
Amir is a real hero.
We visited at his Jerusalem home and he
told me hair-raising stories about the actual raid.
It was his job to be the first in the door of the old
terminal building, where all the hostages were being kept. Since the terrorists
had set a deadline of 10 a.m., the parents of frightened children knew time was
running out, and no one was coming to get them.
Yes, they were.
Fighting the temptation not to fight, Israel’s
leaders prepared to pay the ultimate price. They would plan and execute an
operation so harrowing and daring, one would be forgiven for thinking it was all
made up by Hollywood
It was more dramatic than that.
As Amir burst through the door and aimed his gun at a
German terrorist lying on the floor just a few feet away, he was also shouting
at the hostages, “Stay down! We are the Israeli army!”
“The terrorist saw me first and fired perhaps 15 rounds at
my head,” he told me. “I could feel bullets and glass flying past my face.”
Nothing hit him. He also said that the stunned hostages began throwing blankets
and jackets over their sleeping children, reflexively. “They thought they were
being executed,” Amir remembers.
Amir and fellow members of Sayeret Matkal, the elite
commando unit, killed all the terrorists in a matter of seconds.
Seconds. The whole initial operation
took perhaps five minutes. Five minutes.
Almost three-thousand miles from home.
If you read the story of Entebbe
and still don’t believe in God, you’re not paying attention.
The Israelis secured the hostages, blew up several Ugandan
airplanes, loaded everyone on the four C-130s, and headed out into the night,
toward home. Toward
They landed later that morning to a jubilant nation
awaiting them. It remains the most daring hostage rescue of all time.
But the fellow I remember most is the fighter who can’t be
with us today. Lt. Colonel Jonathan “Yoni” Netanyahu, a legendary soldier, fell
at the beginning of the operation. He was commander of Sayeret Matkal (“the
Unit”) and had ordered his men to leave behind all wounded soldiers until the
hostages were freed. He died on the pavement outside the terminal building.
Today he rests in
Unless you read Hebrew, you cannot find his grave. Unlike other countries, who
romanticize and lionize their soldier-heroes, Israel
does nothing of the kind. The mountain is a quiet home for thousands who have
given their lives for the Jewish state, and each grave looks the same.
That’s not quite true. If you go there, look for the
headstone ringed with smaller stones. These are “stones of remembrance,” placed
their by grieving relatives and friends, and a grateful public. Yoni’s headstone
is covered with small stones.
I remember Yoni often, and am grateful to have met men like
Surin and Amir. They keep us safe and make their pacifist, leftist critics look
Let us all remember the Miracle, and thank God for bringing
Jim Fletcher edited
Entebbe: The Jonathan Netanyahu Story, by Iddo Netanyahu (Balfour Books,
2003). It remains the best book he’s ever read. If you’d like to have Jim speak
and Bible prophecy, in your church, he can be reached at
co-authored The Last War (New Leaf
Press, 2001) and is the author of the upcoming
It’s the End of the World As We Know It