Raid on Entebbe: Part one

The?monocled British statesman stared out of the train?s window at the seemingly endless tracts of African expanse.

It was early 1903 and Joseph Chamberlain was deep in thought.

The one-meter gauge of the railway line he was now travelling upon had been years in the making and had only been accomplished through bitter political struggle at home and blood spilt here in Kenya.

The name given to it was the Uganda Line in recognition of its ultimate destination and much suffering had taken place in its creation.

The railway had been met with determined resistance from the Massai and Nandi peoples and in one massacre alone, the Kedong Massacre, a railway workers caravan had been attacked with over 500 killed after two Massai girls had been raped.

In 1898 a number of workers had been killed and eaten by two lions as a bridge was being constructed over the Tsavo River. Hunting mainly at night the lions had stalked and killed around 28 African and Indian labourers. Some accounts had put the figure as high as 135.

Rocking to the movement of the locomotives passage, his mind rested upon the meeting he had had the previous year with the young man whose eloquent argument and passion for the protection of his people had moved him so.

The young man?s name was Theodore Herzl and he had met with him on the 23rd of October 1902, in response to an escalation of violence and persecution against Jewish people living in the Bessarabian Governorate of the Russian Empire.

This latest pogrom against the Jews had broken out after a series of anti-Jewish articles had been published by the local newspaper The Bessarabian in Kishinev which had fanned the flames of hate towards these unfortunate people.

Headlines such as: ?Death to the Jews? and ?Crusade against the Hated Race? had been published by the well-known anti-Zionist Pavel Krushevan who had recently also published his racially charged diatribe titled ?The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.?

Rumour and fear had spread like wildfire in the tiny Russian region after a local Ukrainian boy named Mikhail Rybachenko had been found murdered and another girl who had committed suicide by poisoning had been pronounced dead in a Jewish hospital.

The Bessarabian and another local paper called The Light had insinuated that the two children had been killed by the Jewish community in order to provide blood for the preparation of matzo for the Passover.

As the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh the tensions between the two communities had heightened to a boiling point. As congregations were dismissed on Easter Sunday the match was thrown into the tinder-dry atmosphere, sparking off two days of rioting, rape and murder which left 47 Jews dead, 92 severely wounded, 700 homes destroyed and 600 stores pillaged.

The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, “Kill the Jews,” was taken- up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep. The dead numbered 120 and the injured about 500. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babes were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob. The local police made no attempt to check the reign of terror. At sunset the streets were piled with corpses and wounded. Those who could make their escape fled in terror, and the city is now practically deserted of Jews.

New York Times, April 28th 1903

Despite the world outcry, most notably from American President Theodore Roosevelt, very few were held to account for their actions in the massacre of innocent men, women and children.

Two men were to receive sentences of 5 to 7 years, while another 22 were given relatively light sentences of between 1 ? 2 years.

Perhaps the?most significant?impact of this event was that it gave further impetus?for the Zionist cause, motivating many Jews living in the Russian Empire to move either further westwards into Europe or to Palestine.

Chamberlain?s contact with Herzl the previous October crystallised an idea for a Jewish homeland to be established atop the Mau Escarpment in the then British Protectorate of East Africa in what would eventually become Kenya. The area was considered appropriate due to its relative isolation and temperate climate.

Herzl brought the proposal to the Sixth Zionist Congress at Basel on the 26th of August 1903 where it was met with a rather mixed reaction from the attending delegates. However, due to the escalating tensions in the Russian Empire and a perceived immediate threat towards the Jewish Communities which still resided there, a vote of 295 ? 178 favoured the establishment of a fact-finding expedition to the African Continent in order to further?investigate the practicalities of the scheme’s implementation.

During the Seventh Zionist Congress of 1905 the plan was rejected amid much heated debate.

Herzl alongside Nahum Syrkin and Israel Zangwill to name only?a few, would continue to champion the idea until the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which led to the refocusing of the Congress?s efforts towards the eventual establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

The formation of the State of Israel on the 14th of May 1948 would finally put to bed well and truly any ideas for alternative homelands for the Jewish people in other parts of the world.

As this tiny nation continued to fight for its survival throughout the proceeding decades a renewed relationship began to blossom between itself and the region of Africa which?was once?touted as its alternative.

The recently declared independent nation of Uganda had formed a close working relationship with Israel and had begun to benefit from closer economic ties and military cooperation.

Israel would lend much support to the training of the Ugandan army and also for?the implementation of basic infrastructure in the burgeoning central African nation.

In 1971?a relatively unknown Commander of the Ugandan Army, Idi Amin Dada, would launch a successful coup d??tat against the current president Milton Obote after Obote had found evidence of Amin?s misappropriation of army funds.

Amin?s rule would be characterised by?rampant human rights abuses; aggressive political repression; ethnic persecution; extrajudicial killings; nepotism and favouritism leading to a cult of personality; corruption and gross economic mismanagement.

Beginning in 1972 he was to implement what he called an ?economic war? during which he was to break all of the existing ties Uganda had been developing since its independence on the 9th of October 1962.

When in 1972 Israel refused to provide Amin with fighter jets for his proposed invasion of neighbouring Tanzania he reportedly became enraged and decided to expel all Israelis from Uganda.

Relations further soured as Amin began to court the likes of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.

In July of 1975, Amin was to stage a ridiculously expensive wedding to 19-year-old Sarah Kyolaba, a local go-go dancer. For his best man in this obscene endeavour, he was to choose the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat.

In June of 1976, he was to allow the safe passage and landing of an Air France airliner into Ugandan airspace which had been hijacked by two members of the German Revolutionare Zellen and two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-External Operations.

At Entebbe Airport these four hijackers were joined by several others in addition to ground forces of the Ugandan Army.

What was to follow would be a tense standoff between Israel and forces intent on its virtual destruction from the face of the planet.

This hostage drama would also motivate the tiny nation of Israel to plan, prepare, and execute one of the most audacious and seemingly impossible rescue missions ever witnessed in recorded history.