Raid made real

Back to Entebbe

By Bharati K. Dubey
  • Published 14.03.18
Rosamund Pike (right) and Daniel Brühl, who play hijackers in 7 Days in Entebbe

In the summer of 1976, Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris was taken over midair by four hijackers; two of them from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — External Operations and two left-wing German radicals. When the plane is diverted to an abandoned terminal at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, then ruled by Idi Amin, the terrified passengers become bargaining chips in a deadly political standoff. After six days of negotiations, the likelihood of finding a diplomatic solution fades. The Israeli government then sets in motion an audacious plan to free the prisoners.

In 7 Days in Entebbe, Brazilian director Jose Padilha, who helmed the acclaimed Netflix series Narcos, brings to the screen for today’s generation one of the most daring hostage rescue missions ever mounted.

To ensure a high degree of authenticity, Padilha enlisted technical and military advisers who were at Entebbe during the real life rescue mission on July 4, 1976. They also had a former member of the Israeli Defense Force and a member of the raid team in 1976 — Amir Ofer — present as a guiding light right through the filming.

“It was very important to me to try to get as many details right as possible,” said Padilha. “We talked to lots of people who were there at the time, including five or six soldiers who were part of the raid itself. The criteria was to run with direct witnesses, as opposed to people who said ‘I heard’ or ‘I believe’ it was like this. So I think we are close to the truth.”

For many viewers, the most controversial aspect of Entebbe would be the fact that it shows Yonatan ‘Yoni’ Netanyahu — the elder brother of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — being killed at the beginning of the raid, rather than leading the elite squad in action until dying at the last moment, as has been long believed. In recent years, accounts have come to light from fellow soldiers who were there who said Yoni was killed early on — the only casualty for the Israeli forces. Among these is Ofer, who was one of the first commandos to enter the airport.

“I was approached by Padilha, who told me he was trying to make the most accurate film about Entebbe possible. Of course, it’s still a movie, so there needed to be some additional material included. But he really was looking to create the most authentic depiction of the operation itself,” Ofer had earlier said.

Ofer assisted the actors with technical details like how to hold their rifles and how to aim at targets. “But what was even more important was to explain to them exactly where we stopped, the way we ran from the vehicles to the terminal, where we turned, where people died, and so on,” he said.