Right On!: Whatever happened to the 'Spirit of Entebbe'?

Israel has gone from being a country which frees hostages to one that frees terrorists.

michael freund 88 (photo credit: )
michael freund 88
(photo credit: )
Once upon a time, and it truly seems like it was a very long time ago, the State of Israel knew how to take swift and decisive action in order to protect its citizens and punish its foes. I know, dear reader, that may be hard for you to believe, particularly in light of recent events. After all, Israel has spent much of the past decade in retreat, ignominiously capitulating to terrorism and turning over vast swathes of territory to Palestinian control. With Cpl. Gilad Schalit being held captive by Palestinians in Gaza for the past year, and the residents of Sderot and the Western Negev dodging Kassam rockets on a daily basis, it is easy to forget that words such as heroism, daring and bravery once exemplified our government's approach towards combating terror. None of these qualities were on display the other day at Sharm e-Sheikh, of course, where Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saw fit to heap concession after concession on the ineffectual and increasingly irrelevant Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. After agreeing to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to the Abbas-led regime, and to strengthen the armed Fatah gangs loyal to him, the premier presented his Palestinian counterpart with an unexpected parting gift. "As a gesture of goodwill to the Palestinians," Olmert declared, "I decided today that I'll bring to the Israeli government at its next meeting a recommendation to release 250 prisoners from Fatah without blood on their hands." Then, in what passes for Israeli resolve and determination these days, the premier insisted that the Fatah terrorists would be freed, but only if "they sign commitments not to become involved again in terrorism." Phew. And I thought they would be let go for nothing. Apparently, it didn't dawn on the Prime Minister to link the release of Palestinian terrorists with freedom for Gilad Schalit, or to condition any further movement on the diplomatic front with progress towards his return home. Instead, the fact that a young Israeli Jew serving his country was abducted 12 months ago by a group of thugs was treated as if it was a pesky and tiresome nuisance, rather than a substantive and fundamental matter of principle. In light of the Prime Minister's sorry display, it is especially important that we recall the anniversary of an important event that took place just over three decades ago this week, one which offers us a potent and timely reminder of just how terrorism should truly be fought. IT WAS 31 years ago today, on June 27, 1976, that armed gunmen from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, together with some German accomplices, hijacked Air France flight 139, diverting it to Libya and then on to the city of Entebbe, in Idi Amin's Uganda. As the world looked on, the terrorists proceeded to separate out the Jewish and Israeli passengers, threatening to kill them if Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails were not set free. Back then, however, Israel was not yet in the habit of yielding to terrorist demands. No international summits were convened at Sharm e-Sheikh, no "gestures" were made to the terrorists, nor were any tax receipts transferred into their coffers. Instead, Israel reacted precisely as it should have, by launching a stunning military raid on July 4, 1976, freeing virtually all the captives and bringing the situation to a sudden and dramatic end. In one fell swoop, Israel had underlined its role as the sovereign defender of Jews everywhere. An entire generation was inspired to believe that the Jewish people were determined to defend themselves whatever the consequences might be. THE RESCUE at Entebbe was also a powerful symbol for the entire free world. It showed that with a little courage and resolve, and a healthy dose of military force, the scourge of international terror could be defeated. For years afterwards, it was the "Spirit of Entebbe" which guided this country, and which deterred its enemies from once again thinking that Jews and Israelis were fair game. Looking back, it is hard to believe how much has changed since then. In just three decades, Israel has gone from being a country which frees hostages to one that frees terrorists. Instead of refusing to negotiate with the bad guys, we now offer them unilateral concessions while getting nothing in return. In times such as these, we must seek to revive the "Spirit of Entebbe" and infuse it into our national life. Jewish lives were once considered precious enough to warrant risking international condemnation over saving them in a distant land. That must again become a pillar of Israeli security policy. By refraining from taking the steps necessary to protect itself for fear of how the world will react, Israel is effectively placing greater importance on international public opinion than on the lives and well-being of its citizens. That calculus is not only morally warped, but short-sighted and dangerous too. As Entebbe so clearly demonstrated, winning the war against terrorists comes not when one yields to them, but when the terrorists themselves are forced to yield. Only by regaining the spirit of triumph and fortitude that was embodied at Entebbe, and by hitting back at our foes, can Israel possibly hope to dissuade them from committing further atrocities and outrages. And the sooner our government adopts this basic and self-evident approach, the safer all of us will be.