Veterans: The photographer with a twist

Chaim Martell has an unusual tale to tell; Chaim Martell, 64; From Leeds to Petah Tivka, 1973.

Chaim Martell 521 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Chaim Martell 521
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
On the face of it, Chaim Martell leads a fairly mundane existence. With his work as a medical photographer at Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus and even as the chairman of the Hitachdut Olei Britannia (British Immigrants’ Association), it’s all rather predictable.
Who would guess from chatting with the 64-year-old immigrant from Leeds that he was indirectly involved in one of the most exciting events in Israeli history – the Entebbe adventure? Through his late wife, Tricia, who sadly died just a year ago, he lived every moment of the incredible story – through her capture on the Air France hijacking in 1976, her brilliant ruse for escaping and her subsequent questioning by the Mossad.
“For years after, she was asked to tell the story,” says Martell. “I don’t think it especially affected our lives – one just got on with life, working, paying the bills. She used to give talks to the army and they used the episode to teach young soldiers how to use their ingenuity to solve problems.”
Martell studied photography in his native Leeds, and soon after qualifying, worked for three years as a photographer on a cruise ship.
“It was great while I was doing it,” he recalls. “I traveled all over the world. But after a time I felt I wanted to put down roots.”
Always a member of the Federation of Zionist Youth, when the Yom Kippur War broke out in 1972, he volunteered and was accepted to help out on a kibbutz. After the war he decided to stay on, and got the job he still holds today, as a medical photographer.
Once the hospital employed eight photographers, but today, only two do the job.
“It’s changed so much,” says Martell. “In the old days you needed a darkroom and had to develop the photos, so nowadays it’s much simpler.”
As to the subjects Martell is called on to photograph, he says he quickly got used to some of the less inviting medical curiosities he records for medical discourses and teaching.
“I learned to look at things objectively,” he says.
Soon after renting an apartment he met Tricia, who had made aliya in 1969 and worked as a nurse at the Sharon hospital. They married in 1976, and Entebbe happened less than two months later.
What happened was that Tricia’s mother died unexpectedly in Manchester. In those days, there were not as many flights as today, and she found herself on the Air France plane to Paris that was hijacked.
“She was scared at the beginning and knew it was dangerous with the weapons and terrorists barking orders, but after a time she realized she would have to get off the plane. She had just lost her mother and made up her mind that she was not going to let these people force her to roam all over the world – the plane had landed in Libya for refueling – and not get to Manchester to mourn and sit shiva with the rest of her family,” explains Martell.
“Being a nurse, she decided to fake a medical reason,” he continues. “She considered a heart attack and a fit, but in the end told them she was pregnant and bleeding.
She felt the German woman terrorist would understand, and not want a woman having a miscarriage in the middle of her hijacking. So they let her off, in Benghazi.”
Twenty-four hours later she was in London, where the Mossad grabbed her, and she was able to help them with the information they needed to carry out their unbelievable rescue.
Tricia died suddenly last December. Martell keeps busy with his work as the chairman of the British Immigrants’ Association, which he has been involved with for many years. In spite of his nearly 40 years in the country, he enjoys the company of his fellow Brits.
“I like the social side – we have outings, lectures, quizzes and all kinds of events – but I also know it’s helping people who are lonely or have problems dealing with bureaucracy here,” he says. “We have many older members who live on their pensions and want their own social circle, so we provide an important service.”
He and Tricia had three children. Their oldest, Penny, is married to a native Israeli, Ze’ev, and they have three children of their own and live in Sha’arei Tikva. The twin sons, Nadav and Guy, both have good jobs – Nadav is an English teacher in a prestigious high school; Guy, who is deaf, works for Osem, the food company.
“For years he tried to get work and no one would give him a job,” says Martell. “But he was lucky that Micha, the organization for the deaf, took an interest and managed to get him the job in the Osem warehouse.”
For the last five or six years, Chaim has had a somewhat unusual start to his day.
“I get up at 3:30 a.m. and drive into the countryside and I start to walk, for two, maybe three hours. It’s quiet and peaceful, there’s no traffic or fumes from cars and I like to listen to the radio.”
Sounds like a very good preparation for another hectic working day in Israel.