The brutal taking of about 150 innocent men, women, and children during the heinous Hamas attack on Saturday brought to the fore lessons that I drew from my own experience as a hostage taken violently and held for three weeks by Palestinian terrorists.
Fifty-three years ago, as a seventeen-year-old American kid, I was hijacked on Sunday, September 6, 1970, with my mother and four siblings aboard a TWA plane on our way back home in the U.S. from a visit in Israel. We were hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The PFLP hijackers brought our plane to the desert floor in Jordan east of Amman. In terms of violence and brutality, though perhaps not naked savagery, the PFLP then was the Hamas of today. The PFLP hijacked two other planes that week, bringing a total of nearly 400 innocent civilians into the desert. Though they sent some women and children to hotels in Amman, they forced all Jews to remain on our plane.
At 2 a.m. between Thursday and Friday, the terrorists woke me up and took me off the plane with nine other men. We were sure we were taken to be executed. On Saturday, most of the remaining hostages including my mother and siblings were released. The three planes were blown up spectacularly. Only 54 hostages, including me, continued to be held, at first in four and then in three groups.
In conversations amongst ourselves in a refugee camp south of Amman, we tried to parse the situation. At one point, I said that I was sure that our governments would do everything in their power to gain our safe release. The flight engineer, Al Kiburis, turned to me and said, “David, the governments will seek our release only if it is in their best interests to do so.”
I couldn’t accept that, at first. But I quickly realized that he was right. Although freeing its citizens is a top priority, that cannot necessarily be the supreme priority of a government. Indeed, a day or two after this conversation, King Hussein opened a war against the PLO, of which the PFLP was a member. The governments of our home countries, including the U.S., did not object. The lives of us 54 hostages were clearly expendable in the larger scheme of things.
Believe it or not, though I was sitting under withering fire that began raining down upon us because we were near a Palestinian command center, I understood. Of course, I wanted to get out alive and unharmed. But I also understood that there was a much larger issue at stake. A terrorist organization had taken over Hussein’s country, and he needed to take it back.
After two weeks of intense fighting, Hussein crushed the PLO. We were released unconditionally and unharmed. The PLO and PFLP threw up their hands in surrender and were only too happy to let us go.
My heart truly goes out to those who are now in the hands of Hamas. My heart goes out to their families. I know the pain the families are feeling, because my father related to me for decades how devastating it was for him to see his family in the hands of Palestinian terrorists. My mother and siblings described how they felt after they were released while I was still being held.
But today, as then, there is a much larger issue at stake. We have to take our country back. We have to rid the country of the terrorist threats. We must destroy Hamas utterly, as Hussein did to the PLO in his country over the following months. And not just in Gaza, but in Lebanon and the head of the snake in Iran.
A few words that may possibly provide a modicum of comfort to the families of the hostages: First, here I am alive, writing this opinion piece. Second, it became clear to us, throughout the fighting and despite it, that it was important for the PLO and PFLP to keep us alive and unharmed. Some of their fighters in fact risked their own lives to bring us water and food. The terror organizations understood that we would be of no value to them dead. Our value to them was alive and unharmed. I hope that there are some rational leaders in Hamas who appreciate this and will seek to keep the hostages safe and unharmed.
Third: Throughout the ordeal, we hostages kept up each other’s morale. We would talk and sing. We’d flash a “thumbs up” to anyone who seemed to be falling into a funk. We would make jokes, though some with black humor. And, while we did not stop worrying that we would be killed—even accidentally by a stray shell, we also always had a certain belief that we’d get out alive.
Looking at the present situation and what happened to me over 50 years ago, I cannot help but ask what the Palestinians have gained from all their horrendous terrorist acts? Especially when looking at Egypt and Jordan, and more recently at the UAE and Morocco, and, prospectively, at Saudi Arabia. Look how they benefited from making peace with Israel.
I can conclude only that the goal of Palestinian terrorists is merely to massacre Jews—the more, the better—and to annihilate Israel, where I now live.
In U.S. population terms, what Hamas just did to Israel is the equivalent of raping, murdering, or taking hostage all the citizens of a town of 40,000 people—like, say, Teaneck, New Jersey, where I lived for 15 years—in a single day, then destroying it.
With all the pain it causes me and will cause to all of us, including the risk to the lives of the hostages, we must give the unity government of Israel the backing and space to do what it needs to do in order to bring back our country and offer its citizens a durable security that will last for the decades to come.
David Raab is Chairman of BioGenCell, an Israel biotech startup based in Netanya, Israel.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.