We couldn’t leave the range without interviewing Shai. My husband, Yishai – the one I’ve vowed to lock and load with for the rest of my life – discussed Shai’s outlook on Jewish defense and his participation in the Entebbe Rescue Operation – which happened on July 4, 1976.
“My generation grew up after the Holocaust,” Ish Shalom told Yishai on Jewish Press Radio. “And I remember in the elite unit in which I served, sitting in the tent in a very, very difficult training, very blue like I always am [on Israel’s annual Holocaust memorial day], but I see my members quite the same…. I initiated by saying I’m blue because it’s Holocaust day and I joined Sayeret Matkal only so this will not happen again to the Jewish people as long as I contribute my best. And [my friend] said ‘I was ashamed to talk about it, but I feel the same!’ and all the people around said the same.”
“In my time, it’s [Zionism] to take a guy… and make him in six days a proper security guard… I’m going to beat him up, I’m going to put him on the ground, just so when and if the time comes, I know I gave him my best. This is Zionism,” Ish-Shalom said. “We know that [battle] can bring us to die. And we’re willing to die… we know that’s what it takes, and we’re willing to take it.”
Although we were eager to hear war stories from Entebbe, Ish-Shalom was not forthcoming. He explained the background of Arab hijackings following the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, in which the Palestinian Black September terror group took hostage and murdered 11 Israeli athletes and coaches.
He also discussed his Sayeret Matkal unit’s readiness to participate in the rescue at Entebbe, and the most dangerous aspect of the mission – the 20 minutes of flight between Nairobi and Entebbe during which their aircraft was not covered by Israeli jets.
But the juicy details never came. “It doesn’t matter – we carried it out,” Ish-Shalom told Yishai. “No vanity, we just did what we did because as I said before, I’m willing to give my life for you, even though I don’t know you, because this is my nature. “
“We came in, we did our job, we were accurate…. But as a Jew, we are willing to take the risk, because we won’t let any Holocaust happen again. This is all I can say.”
Ish-Shalom also stressed the importance of teaching Jews today that they are responsible for their own safety in an uncertain world.
“It’s our fault,” Ish-Shalom said. “We took our children and said ‘we had such a tough time, let’s keep it away from them,’ so that’s what we do… Now when they have to cope, they don’t know how to do it because we always covered for them. So when I’m here and with the youngsters, I show them it’s their responsibility – and be tough, nobody will come for your rescue, only yourself, no father, no mother, you! “
And that is a message he tells both Israelis and Jews from the Diaspora.
“First of all, you must know it is safe here for Jews. You must know – the safest place on the earth for Jews,” Ish-Shalom said. “But if you want to be a Jew and you want to be in the Diaspora and you don’t feel safe, make it safe for yourself. It’s easy to do. Or come here.”
I was deeply moved by my experience. Standing in the foothills of Judea, Malkah Fleisher, Israeli olah, held a specialized Israeli-designed weapon – one of just a few we have crafted to defend ourselves since breaking away from millennia of victimization – with careful directions being whispered in my ear by a man who himself was groomed to perfect weapons use in the defense of the Jewish people, and went on to do so in one of the most valorous missions the Jewish people have undertaken in 2,000 years. Next to him, his assistant – a former member of the New Zealand military who then became a Christian missionary, ultimately realizing the error of his ways and converting to Judaism, then taking it to the next step by making aliyah. The date of our shooting day: the 27th of Sivan, the eve of the hijacking of that Air France plane so many years ago (on the Jewish calendar – no, we didn’t plan it that way). And all around us – Caliber 3, one of the country’s six state-authorized police, army, counter-terror and special forces training facilities – erected from the bottom up by a Jew who left the United States to join in the greatest mission of all – to build the Jewish state alongside all of us here today.