1970 was a year of turmoil in the Middle East, and my family was stuck in the middle of it. On September 6, after spending a fun-filled summer vacation in Israel, we headed back to the United States – my mother, three older brothers, an older sister and I.
But what was supposed to be a routine flight from Lod Airport to JFK in New York turned out to be a seven-day nightmare.
A quick refueling stop in Frankfurt, Germany, and a malfunctioning metal detector, were all two terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) needed to board our TWA flight. Shortly after take-off from Frankfurt, they hijacked the plane and ordered the pilot to land the aircraft in a makeshift desert airstrip known as Dawson Field in the heart of Jordan. This site, near the city of Zarqa, was to become the receiving ground for two more hijacked airplanes (Swissair and BOAC).
We spent a week on the airplane, in the desert, surrounded by a ring of PFLP terrorists, who were surrounded by a ring of Jordanian soldiers. Food was scarce, water was almost non-existent, the cold at night was unbearable, the day’s heat was sweltering, and the mood was tense.
Forty-eight years ago, the hijackers took every identifiable Hebrew, Jewish, and Israeli item out of our suitcases and smashed them into the desert sand. My favorite toy, made in Israel, was smashed under the boot of a PFLP terrorist. I had received it for my sixth birthday that summer in Israel.
Forty-eight years ago my mother said the “Shema Yisrael” as my oldest brother David, then a mere 17 years of age, was led off the plane into total darkness. We thought we’d never see him again.
Forty-eight years ago, my mother bribed me with a toy tractor to drink the chlorinated water served to us by our captors, lest I become dehydrated.
Forty-eight years ago, a group of Arab schoolchildren paraded down the aisle of the plane while we sat with our hands on our heads. They pointed and laughed at us, saying, “Al Yahudi! Al Yahudi!”
Forty-eight years ago the terrorists booby-trapped our airplane with explosives, with us on it, and threatened to blow us up if their demands for the release of their comrades in various prisons around the world were not met.
Forty-eight years have passed since the hijacking. King Hussein of Jordan was in power, and Yasser Arafat and his band of guerrillas were evicted from that country (only to seek refuge in Lebanon).
Each member of my family has committed himself or herself to Israel and Jewish causes. In political debates, we have a perspective that very few others can claim. We survived a major terrorist hijacking. With G-d’s help, we all survived, and no one was killed or physically hurt.
Has the world learned any lesson about the intentions of Israel’s neighbors from this incident and others? Clearly not. Terror continues to proliferate in Israel, and worldwide, while the world continues to blame Israel for defending itself and establishing itself as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Have I learned anything from the passage of forty-eight years? Absolutely! Don’t expect the world to become wiser as a result of these incidents. Don’t expect it to come to the defense of Israel. A strong, confident, and secure Israel is our only hope.