On May 30, 1972,
Israel’s only international airport was shaken by its first deadly terrorist
attack, shattering the foundation of the state’s security. The massacre was
significant not only for Israel, but also for Puerto Rico, whose nation was hit
for the first time by the phenomenon of terrorism, losing many citizens in the
On that day, 40 years ago, three inconspicuous Japanese men
dressed in business suits disembarked Air France Flight 132 from Rome and
strolled into the baggage claim area. After retrieving what appeared to be
violin cases, the men pulled out machine guns, opened fire and threw grenades
indiscriminately at the crowds of people. One of the three, Tsuyoshi Okudaira,
ran out onto the tarmac and began shooting at passengers descending the stairs
from an El Al plane before taking his own life.
The gunmen killed 26
people: 17 Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico, one Canadian citizen, and eight
Israelis, and 80 people were injured. Among the Israelis killed was renowned
scientist Aharon Katzir, whose brother, Ephraim Katzier became president a few
years later. Gunman Yasuyuki Yasuda was also shot dead during the attack - it is
unclear whether by his own weapon or that of his partners or security forces.
The lone surviving gunman, Kozo Okomato, was injured, arrested by security
forces and given a life sentence. He was later freed in the 1985 prisoner swap
known as the Gibril Deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
document cited by Puerto Rican online newspaper Primera Hora, Pablo Tirado
related that his father, who was injured in the attack, “came out of the baggage
claim area and walked to the bathroom,” while Camelo Calderon Molina, who was
killed in the massacre, “was waiting in the baggage claim area with others
standing nearby.” He said the terrorists ran through the airport shooting and
throwing grenades until they ran out of ammunition.
Ruth Calderon Cordona cried as she gave her testimony, 37 years after losing her
father: “He always told us he didn’t want to die until he saw the land where
Jesus walked - but he never saw it, because he died in the airport,” Primera
Hora quoted her as saying.
The assailants, members of communist group the
Japanese Red Army (JRA), were enlisted by the Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine (PFLP), after the group successfully hijacked a Japanese plane
earlier that year and to exploit their Japanese identities, which would diminish
attention from airport security. While security forces were always alert to
potential Palestinian attackers, the use of Japanese men caught them off guard.
The attack forever changed security attitudes in Israel, opening authorities’
eyes to the possibility that any person, of any nationality, may pose a
“[The PFLP] first wanted to hijack an El Al plane,” said Director
of Shurat HaDin (The Israel Law Center) Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who sued North
Korea for its part in the assault. “But when they realized that would not be
possible, they planned to kill Israelis in a terror attack.” The Japanese
terrorists trained in Lebanon, sponsored by the PFLP. The latter claimed
responsibility for the attack in a letter which referred to the attack as
Operation Deir Yassin, indicating that it was revenge for the 1948 Deir Yassin
massacre, in which Jewish militias from the Irgun Zva’I Leumi and Lehi
underground groups killed some 107 residents of the village.
victim Molina’s eight children - along with Tirado whose father Pablo Tirado
Ayala was injured in the attack - filed a lawsuit in 2008 against the government
of North Korea. Shurat Ha Din together with Puerto Rican attorney Manuel de San
Juan represented the families, charging North Korea with involvement in the
attack as a sponsor of the PFLP via the JRA. The result was a $378 million
judgement against North Korea.
Beyond legal steps, Puerto Rico
immortalized the Lod Airport Massacre into the public memory. In 2006 the Puerto
Rican government passed a law declaring May 30th as the annual “Remembrance Day
for the Massacre of Lod.” The law states that the attack - a generation before
September 11 - set the tone for future events. “These humble religious, Puerto
Ricans were victims of a supposedly revolutionary alliance, that in reality was
blinded by fanaticism that uses anti-Semitic discourse to expand the scale of
terrorist violence unleashed against Jewish and non-Jewish targets throughout
the world,” the law reads.
The reason for establishing the memorial day
was that the event, which had a huge impact on Puerto Rican society, had almost
disappeared from collective memory. The law stresses the importance of
remembering the event to illustrate to future generations that “violence against
innocents is morally abhorrent,” to remember the victims and to honor the
survivors. In Israel, the Lod Airport Massacre is known for being a turning
point for the state’s airport security. Now named after David Ben-Gurion,
Israel's first prime minister, the airport is internationally acclaimed for
being one of the most secure airports in the world. It is also, however,
criticized for using controversial profiling techniques to achieve this. Israel
established an entirely new security system specific to the airport and
introduced new methods of security checks. Another response, which was also
prompted by the Munich massacre later that year, was government resolution 411,
which specifies the division of responsibilities for the security of the state’s
institutions between the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and the Israel
The Lod Airport Massacre shocked Israel into making serious
changes in its airport security system and there have not been any successful
terrorist attacks within the airport grounds since. The meticulous security
measures serve as a constant reminder to the Israeli public of past tragedies,
while half way across the world, the Puerto Ricans commemorate yearly the
victims they lost at the hands of international terrorism.
Paraszczuk contributed to this report
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