Entebbe Hostage Will Never Forget Man He Never Met

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Col. Yonatan Netanyahu lost his life that day, but his courage was commemorated by a 1986 memorial at Congregation Mikveh Israel.

Benny Davidson celebrated his “other” birthday on the Fourth of July — the one largely made possible by a man he never met yet will never forget.
The man who led Operation Thunderbolt, the daring middle-of-the-night raid that rescued him and 101 other hostages in Entebbe, Uganda 40 years ago, was Col. Yonatan Netanyahu. He lost his life that day, but his courage was commemorated by a 1986 memorial located outside Congregation Mikveh Israel in Society Hill.
Davidson, now 53, was honored to be part of Philadelphia’s July 5 tribute to the 40th anniversary of Entebbe.
He described in detail what the ordeal was like for a 13-year-old kid who was heading from Israel to the U.S. to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah.
“Standing here at the memorial of Yoni, I’m at a loss for words,” said an emotional Davidson, who explained how his parents, Uzi and Sara, kept him and his younger brother, Ron, calm by playing cards and other games to take their minds off what was happening. “I didn’t know Yoni, but I’m the leading witness to his sacrifice. I’m deeply grateful to him and his friends for bringing us back alive.
“I always tell people I have two birthdays. One is April 11, my natural one. The other is July 4. I celebrated that one yesterday.”
He left his wife and four children home in Israel to be here to tell his — and Yoni’s — story. After watching a screening of Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story, which details the events leading up to the rescue, interwoven around Netanyahu’s life in the years before, Davidson addressed the 100 or so people in the room.
“My name is Benny, and I was a hostage 40 years ago,” he began simply.
Of course, such a harrowing experience was anything but simple.
“I went out to celebrate my Bar Mitzvah with a trip to the United States,” he said. “We took a detour afterward and were in Entebbe for a week. Even though I was only 13 years old, I remember every single minute of it.”
He especially remembers the 38 seconds — though it seemed like at least five to 10 minutes to young Benny — it took for the Israel Defense Forces to storm through the main hall of the airport where the hostages were being detained, kill the terrorists and guards holding them captive and free them. While all that was going on, Uzi and Sara Davidson had quickly grabbed their children and rushed into the bathroom, where she became a shield by lying on top of them.
“I’m lying down with my mother on top of me,” he said, reconstructing what he describes as “a very bad experience,” but not a traumatic one. “I’m praying, with my face to the ground waiting to die.
“You don’t think about anything else.”
Thanks to the daring of the IDF, whose rescue plans weren’t approved by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin until after some of the planes had already taken off on the 2,300-mile trek to Entebbe, Davidson didn’t die.
“Operation Thunderbolt was anything but risk-free,” said Yaron Sideman, Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region. “There were so many factors, known and unknown that went into it … so many things could’ve gone wrong, which is why we’re here. Yoni Netanyahu represented that heroism and sense of mission shared by so many in the planning and execution of Entebbe.”
It’s a mission former CIA Director R. James Woolsey believes Americans should study.
“We don’t maintain peace and stability the right way,” said Woolsey, who ran the department under President Clinton from 1993 to 1995. “You do it the way Netanyahu and the Israelis did. If somebody takes people hostage, you respond the way the Israelis did at Entebbe. Israel can teach a powerful lesson.”
That lesson has stuck with Davidson and his fellow hostages for 40 years, creating a bond that transcends time.
“We meet every few years,” said Davidson, whose 81-year-old mother is still alive, “but with this 40th anniversary, so much has been going on. When I was playing in the hall with the other kids, we weren’t aware we were generating lifelong friendships. We can meet and discuss it as if it happened yesterday, because this is a bond that won’t go away.
“In such a situation, don’t think forward. Don’t think backward. Live in the moment. Have faith and use whatever helps you overcome fear.
“Last but not least, if you’re a Jew or Israeli and you’re captured anywhere in the world, know the IDF will come if it can. Trust that.”
 Thanks to that trust, thanks to the man he never met whom he was here to honor, Benny Davidson and the rest of the Entebbe hostages will continue to tell their stories.

And to celebrate their own special Independence Day birthdays, too,

 

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