Last known picture of Yoni Netanyahu.
(photo credit: WIKIPEDIA)
The telephone call that informed him of his brother Yonatan’s death in July 1976 on the Entebbe rescue mission remains the worst moment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s life.
He shared the continuously resonating pain of that loss with the Israeli public when he spoke Wednesday morning at a Remembrance Day ceremony at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery to commemorate the 23,320 soldiers and civilians who have been killed by war and terrorism since the country was created in 1948.
In this way, Netanyahu said, he is no different from the thousands of families whose lives were torn apart and changed forever when they heard a knock on the door followed by the news that someone they loved had been killed.
Netanyahu said his own metaphorical “knock on the door” occurred when his brother, Ido, called him from Israel while he was studying in the United States. Ido told him that their brother, Yonatan, 30, had been killed leading the Entebbe raid in which 102 hostages were freed.
“It was the worst moment of my life, save for one seven hours later, when after a tortuous nightlong journey, I walked up the path leading to the house of my mother and father,” Netanyahu said.
At the time, his father, Benzion, was a professor of Jewish history at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “It was my lot to be the one to break the news. I was the one knocking on my parents’ door,” Netanyahu said. As he headed to the house, Netanyahu recalled, he could see his father through the living room’s picture window.
In his characteristic way, Benzion was walking back and forth with his hands clasped behind his back, lost in thought, Netanyahu recalled. Something broke Benzion’s concentration. He looked up and saw Netanyahu through the window walking up the path.
“Without his saying a word, his expression changed all at once. A bitter cry burst from his throat,” Netanyahu said. “I went into the house,” Netanyahu said as he described the gut-wrenching memory.
“As long as I breathe, I will never forget his cry and that of my dear mother,” he recalled.
“To receive the ‘knock on the door’ about my brother and then to be the one who knocked on my parents door, made it seem as if Yoni had died twice,” Netanyahu recalled.
Those who have been through this kind of hell know that nothing else can shake one to their core with the same force, Netanyahu said. The wound caused by that kind of shock, pain, and suffering never really heals, Netanyahu said.
”How do we say goodbye to our son?” my parents asked. “How do I say goodbye to my brother?” I asked.
Now as a prime minister who must make life or death decisions about battles and war, Netanyahu said, he is never free of his brother’s loss.
“When I need to decide whether or not to send soldiers into battle, I think of each soldier and their family as if they were my son, my family,” Netanyahu said.