E-Mail: tobias.ebbrecht-hartmann [at] mail.huji.ac.il
After Entebbe: An Entangled History of Violence, Media and Memory
On Sunday morning, 27 June 1976, Air France flight 139 left the Israeli airport in Lod for Paris. Only a few hours later, after a brief stopover in Athens, terrorists hijacked the airliner and, after another unscheduled stopover in Benghazi, headed to Entebbe in Uganda. There the aircraft landed on Monday, 28 June in the early morning. After arrival the hijackers, two of them German and two Palestinians, transferred the passengers to the airport’s old terminal building. After three days in captivity, the terrorists divided the hostages in two groups. Those holding an Israeli passport or other Israeli documents were called to walk into a separate room.
Later, after a successful rescue mission when in the early morning hours of 4 July several commandos of Israeli elite soldiers raided the airport, shot the hijackers and evacuated the hostages, this separation was described as ‘Selekzia’, the selection (Stevenson 2015, 34). Thereby, this particular moment became the most significant turning point in how the Entebbe hostage crisis was publicly perceived and later remembered. The selection evoked its most enduring – and controversial – framing.
My research project reviews the events during and after the Entebbe hostage crisis by focusing on resonating memories that were evoked throughout and after the hijacking, as well as on the specific role film and cinema played in communicating and commemorating the Entebbe hostage crisis. While during the enfolding of the events the participants – hijackers, hostages, Israeli politicians and military command as well as other international actors including the West German government – referred to several contemporary and historical incidents in order to interpret what was happening, in the immediate aftermath traumatic Holocaust memories dominated public perception. Triggered especially through cinematic reenactments, these memories became the most dominant frame for interpreting and commemorating the hostage crisis. In Germany, these resonating memories caused also conflicts among different social and political actors and groups about the future depiction and commemoration of the hijacking. In Israel, in contrast, only a short while after the events, the heroic dimension of the rescue mission and especially the tragic death of one of the commando’s leaders, Yonatan Netanyahu, started dominating public perception and later collective memory.
In doing so, my study delineates and analyzes transformations and shifts in the public perception and collective memory of Entebbe in Israel and Germany. Reaching beyond a sheer historical reconstruction as well as nationally limited previous examinations of the events, it emphasizes the entangled character of the hostage crisis and its impact on visual culture and public memory in an interdisciplinary as well as comparative perspective.