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Entebbe’s Forgotten Dead

A new documentary asks why Israel has overlooked the other Jews who died alongside Yoni Netanyahu

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Jean-Jacques Mimouni, from Live or Die in Entebbe (Courtesy Eyal Boers)

Mention the name Entebbe to any Israeli and they will tell you the story of Yonatan (Yoni) Netanyahu, the heroic paratrooper and older brother of the current prime minister who died commanding the daring raid to free the 105 Israeli hostages hijacked to Entebbe, Uganda, in July of 1976. Popular myth has always held that save one Israeli woman, 74-year-old Dora Bloch, who was murdered in a hospital by Idi Amin’s troops—every single other Israeli was spared thanks to the sacrifice of 30-year-old Netanyahu and the expertise of his elite Sayeret Matkel commando forces.

Within a year of the operation, two high-budget films and a made-for-TV movie were produced that featured stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Charles Bronson, Anthony Hopkins, Peter Finch, and, in one, a dashing Richard Dreyfuss as Yoni Netanyahu. The promos for the films focus on the heroism of the soldiers, particularly Netanyahu.

But for more than 35 years, three Israeli families have remembered the events of Entebbe not as a shining moment of national unity, but as a personal tragedy. That’s because their family members—Jean-Jacques Mimouni, Pasco Cohen, Ida Borochovitch—also died in Entebbe.

In newly released documentary,To Live and Die in Entebbe, filmmaker Eyal Boers tells the story of Entebbe’s other victims and tries to explain why they have been forgotten by history. He focuses especially on what happened to 19-year-old Mimouni during the seven days of the hijacking, how he died in the raid, and why his family was never told the truth about his death.

“The Entebbe myth is a perfect one, made up of smarts, daring, self-sacrifice, dedication to the value of life, and loyalty,” Boers, 37, told me as he sipped tea in a popular Tel Aviv coffee shop late last month. “This mission wasn’t about revenge or aggression. It was pure and it represented the best national qualities that we can be proud of.”

But this mix of legitimate pride, horror, and desire for a glorious national narrative left no room for those whose death was less than glorious. “All nations,” as Boers noted, “need myths. And often, when they tell their myths, they leave out the parts that are uncomfortable or sad.”


Boers, who previously directed the documentary Classmates of Anne Frank, came upon the story of Entebbe by chance. He and Yonatan Khayat, a French-Tunisian-Israeli now living in Montreal, had been friends since their college days in Tel Aviv. Khayat once mentioned that his uncle, Jean-Jacques Mimouni, had died in Entebbe. “I was surprised, because I didn’t know that anyone besides Netanyahu had died there. And then he told me that the family never found out how he died,” Boers recalled. Together, beginning four years ago, Khayat and Boers set out to find the answers to the questions that have haunted Khayat and his family for decades.

The Mimouni family had come to Israel from Paris only four years before the Entebbe hijacking. Jean-Jacques’s father, Robert, was a staunch Zionist who had served in the French resistance during World War II and then in the French police force. One of Mimouni’s older sisters—Khayat’s mother—remained in Paris when the family immigrated. Mimouni was on the Air France flight to Paris in order to see his nephew, Yonatan Khayat, then only two months old, for the first time.

At 9 a.m. on June 27, 1976, along with 227 other passengers, Jean-Jaques Mimouni boarded Air France flight 139 from Ben Gurion Airport to Charles DeGaulle, with a stopover in Greece. After take-off from Athens, the plane was hijacked by four Palestinian and German terrorists. After landing in Benghazi to refuel, they then flew on to the warm welcome of Ugandan despot Idi Amin in Entebbe. Soon afterward, the hijackers freed the French crew and non-Jewish passengers, while retaining 105 Jewish and Israeli hostages.

Back home in Israel, the families of the hostages were unable to sleep. But in the early hours of July 4, Mimouni’s father, Robert, woke the family: He heard about the operation over the radio, and they rushed to Ben Gurion airport to meet the victorious returning planes.

At that very moment, a military jeep was on its way to the Mimouni home, apparently to inform the family about what had happened to their son. Arriving at the airport, surrounded by joyful pandemonium, the Mimouni family was taken aside by military officials. They were told that their son had died of an asthma attack. Robert Mimouni insisted on seeing his son’s body, which was being held in a room at the airport. The body was punctured with bullet holes, but no one ever offered them an explanation. Mimouni demanded to know the truth, but the family was quickly whisked away by government officials.

Over the years, Robert Mimouni tried to piece together the story, unsuccessfully trying to reach soldiers or witnesses. Family members recall that he even tried to make sketches of what might have happened, based on his own knowledge as a resistance fighter and policeman. But the government and the army stonewalled him, according to Boers, and he passed away in 2011.

The Cohen, Borochovitch, and Bloch families had been together in Entebbe so they knew how their loved ones died during the raid: by stray Israeli bullets, and in the case of Dora Bloch, murdered in the hospital. Still, none had ever spoken publicly about the events. And every 10 years, these families, along with all the other hostages and their loved ones, were invited to a national ceremony to celebrate the victory at Entebbe. “This was Israel’s most glorious moment,” Boers said. “The celebrations are filmed on TV. And with almost unbelievable insensitivity, the families of the dead have been invited, too, as if they would join the celebration and forget their losses.”

So, perhaps the most important aspect of To Live and Die in Entebbe is that Boers was able to get some family members of these forgotten victims to articulate their experiences and their loss. The Borochovitch family left Israel several years after the raid, and Boers was unable to track them down for the time. But one of Mimouni’s five sisters agreed to participate in the film. And together with Khayat, Boers interviews other hostages, including members of Pasco Cohen’s family.

Though they were reluctant at first, the Cohen family agreed to meet with Mimouni’s mother, now very elderly, and tell her what they remembered. In Entebbe, the hostages referred to Mimouni as “the kid,” Cohen’s widow, now a middle-aged woman, recalls in the film. She says that Mimouni provoked the terrorists by arguing with them and at least once was severely beaten with a rifle butt. She remembers that he tried to help people, handing out water and offering support and a kind word whenever he could.

Mimouni held French citizenship, and when the terrorists separated the Israelis from everyone else on the first day of the kidnapping, he could have saved himself. But he insisted on staying with the Israelis. “I named the movie, ‘To Live and Die in Entebbe,’” Boers explained, “because Mimouni seems to have discovered his identity—his life as a Jew and an Israeli—in Entebbe. For him, that week was a time of belonging.”

According to the documentary, he was apparently killed because he did not stay down when the Israeli commandos rushed the terminal. The commandos had orders to shoot anyone standing, to protect themselves and the hostages. In the film, Amir Ofer, one of the first Israeli soldiers to burst into the terminal, and the only one interviewed on camera, says, “I would’ve shot him, too.”

In his meeting with Mimouni’s mother and Khayat, Kobi Cohen, a child when he was hijacked and his father was killed, says that he has made peace with the events. “My family suffered, but the mission was right. Otherwise, more people would have died.” Khayat nods in agreement—but cannot accept that Mimouni’s family was never told the truth by the Israeli government or the army. “Robert Mimouni was strong,” Boers told me. “If the state had only acknowledged the truth, he would have understood. But Israel never gave him an answer and never gave him legitimacy to mourn. He died a broken man.”

From a historical perspective, Boers observed, Israel desperately needed a heroic myth. “We needed Entebbe to overcome the trauma of the Yom Kippur War. And there was no place for stories about friendly fire or collateral damage,” he said. “And it was easier in those days for officials to lie—or at least not to give full information to the public. Media and information were slower, and the public trusted its officials.”

Boers did extensive research for the film, which is full of fascinating details, including information about the role of the Kenyan government in enabling the Israeli planes to refuel. Most moving is his interview with Amos Eran, then-director-general of the offices of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin, Eran reveals, had deep doubts about the mission. Expecting severe losses, Rabin had set a calculus of collateral deaths: If more than 25 of the hostages died, he would resign. Fewer than 25 would be considered a success. “When only three were killed in the raid, it was cause for national ecstasy,” Boers said.

Boers compared the Entebbe story as Israelis tell it to themselves to the stories that the Dutch tell themselves about Anne Frank, the topic of his previous film. “The Dutch focus on the fact that they hid Anne Frank, that they protected her. They don’t talk about the Dutchman who turned her in. And they don’t talk about how they allowed 75 percent of the Dutch Jewish population to die in the Holocaust.”

Yet Boers denies that he set out to be a myth-buster. “I was born in Jerusalem and my family moved away. I spent my teen years in Australia. I did not have to return to Israel to serve in the IDF—but I did, in part because I, too, was inspired by the story of Yonatan Netanyahu,” he said.

“Entebbe was a glorious mission. But it would not have been any less glorious if the family of Jean-Jacques Mimouni had been told the truth, or if we remember the dead along with the heroes. I hope that now Israel is mature enough to temper the myth with honesty.”


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ravkarp says:

The stories of the hostages that lost their lives at Entebbe are heart wrenching and I feel for their families’ losses. Yet I have difficulty understanding why the creator of the documentary feels the need to point an accusing finger at Israel and consider the account of the raid on Entebbe as a “myth” rather than a story of heroism in the face of brutal terrorism. No one has ever claimed that there was not a possibility of “collateral damage” – of some hostages being injured or killed in the crossfire between the Israeli commandos and the terrorists. The Israelis acknowledged that possibility prior to the raid and most certainly acknowledged it as fact after the raid. The miracle was that so few hostages did fall victims to the military action and so many were saved. That is not “myth” but rather reality; a glorious reality for Israel. Yes, it would have been better – ideal – if no hostages were injured or killed in the rescue attempt. No one denies that. But that was a long shot at best. So my question is: “Why are there always those people who wish to denigrate the “good guys” and feel driven to re-invent the positive stories of history into negative ones? Yes, we should mourn those who lost their lives at Entebbe, but no, we should not claim that their memory has been slighted because their names are not always on our lips. As an American, when I think of the Alamo, of course I recall the names of Crockett, Bowie, and Travis. But that does not mean that I do not also honor the memories of all those other defenders whose names I do not know. That is just human nature, not some evil design to blot out the memories of the fallen.

    brynababy says:

    I so agree with you. This article and the documentary are an attempt to capitalize, either financially or career-wise, on an historic event and in doing-so, sullying the memory of the brave commandoes who rescued 90% of the terrified and endangered hostages. The film-maker should be ashamed!

Yechiel Gordon says:

I recall, also, in this connection, some of the other collateral damage related to Israel’s generally friendly relationship with Idi Amin, for whom the Israelis constructed Entebbe airport in the first place. Of course, Israel had previously pioneered the first hijacking of a plane, an innovation that led, indirectly, but inevitably to the hijackings such as the one to Entebbe, and the hijacking of a plane that was directed at the Twin Towers on September 11. With regard to Amin, Israel’s military support for his terrorist programs eventually led to an estimated 1,000,000 million deaths, none of which seem to be mentioned here, or even contemplated.

    Link to info about Israel pioneering airplane hijacking? I’ve never heard that before.

      Daniel Winter says:

      Rule #1 of anti-Semitism: always blame the Jews. Even if it’s something that happened totally unrelated to or preceding the existence of Jews. For example: the PLO was founded in 1964 but its very existence along with all the terrorist activity and hijackings it pioneered should be blamed on the Jews and the war won by Israel in 1967.

      Please don’t follow this. I’ve read how terrorism is an American invention (a bomb went off on Wall Street 100 years ago) and THEREFORE Americans are the cause of 9/11 and all other evil acts. Many leftists are foolish blame placers: always looking for an excuse to blame the West or Israel or whoever is politically-inappropriate. Mr Gordon, who may be a wonderful person, is one of those. It’s OK.

      Yechiel Gordon says:

      1954 Israel hijacks Syrian civilian airliner. US State Department: The hijacking was “without precedent in the history of international practice.
      Prime Minister Moshe Sharett justified the hijacking, as it was, “intended to get hostages in order to obtain the release of our prisoners in Damascus.”

    themotherinlawskitchen says:

    Ignorant to the Israeli/Ugandan relationship you speak of, I had to read more. I came across this article
    I worry that your own response is not wholly truthful?

      Yechiel Gordon says:

      Thank you for sending this reference. I have read it and it in no way contradicts, but, rather, tends to support what I mentioned above. In particular: Israel supplied the dictator with millions of dollars worth of arms, in full knowledge of his character, and was prepared to continue doing so, had Amin not thrown Israel out. The article mentions not one iota of concern on the part of the Israeli government regarding Amin’s violations of international law, known throughout the world.

      The continuity of Israel’s policies is highlighted in the article you cite, most especially at its conclusion, where Israel’s cozy relationship with the newest government – brought into power not, as in Gaza, by democratic election, but via coup d’etat — is mentioned with bland approval.

    What the fuck are you talking about

    What collateral damage? Israel’s construction at Entebbe airport preceded Amin’s coup. It took less than a year after he claimed power for Amin to turn to the dictator Khadaffi and the Soviet Union for support.

    Though it may be hard, try working just a little bit with reality Yechiel.

Daniel Winter says:

It is incumbent upon us to promulgate the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. Anything less is a shonda. The need for the myth at the time, however understandable it may have been, is also regrettable. Yasher Koach to the film-makers for continuing to dig through layers of drech until finding and uncovering the Truth.

Entebbe happened when I was a kid & I’d always known that 3 hostages were killed, and that at least one hostage, and possibly all, were killed by friendly fire because they stood up. It was a terrible shame that any were killed, other than the terrorists, but amazing that so many were rescued alive. In the days leading up to the rescue, we had thought that Jews were again being murdered for being Jews and no one could or would help them again; we had little hope for the survival of hostages. Those that lost their lives along with Yoni Netanyahu were never forgotten by me. So not sure what the big revelation is here.

If memory serves, one of the Entebbe movies shows an Israeli intentionally ignoring “Stay Down” by standing up and then getting hit by gunfire. I have used this story in class for years.

Beatrix17 says:

It was because Israel built the airport that they were able to launch a successful raid. All the Western nations originally welcomed Amin until we found out he was using us.

There was nothing to be ashamed of in having collateral damage in such a complex and dangerous raid, but Israel was still too young and naive to realize that. This documentary is a sign of her maturity.

ClooJew says:

Why do the author of this article and the filmmaker pretend that they’ve uncovered something new here? At least one of the movie versions shows the young Frenchman being shot by Israeli forces after standing up when being told to stay down. It’s very sad, but not news.

dave says:

This looks like a worthwhile documentary, and the article provides some interesting new (to me) context surrounding the Entebbe events. However, I concur with some of the other commenters: It was no revelation that three hostages were killed in friendly fire.

Also, something in the article sticks out as a red flag to me: The writer appears to state as fact the assertion that as a French citizen the young Mimouni could have saved himself when the Israelis were separated from the rest of the passengers. However, it is widely understood–and indeed it it stated earlier in the article–that Israeli and JEWISH passengers were separated from the rest of the passengers. My understanding is that the German hijackers were charged with looking at the passengers’ confiscated passports and determining which ones had Jewish names. Mimouni is certainly a Middle-Eastern sounding name. If the German hijackers couldn’t recognize it as Jewish, then the Arab hijackers likely would be able to make that determination.

Reporters and historians should always try to get to the truth. And, citizens should surely expect some transparency from government, except perhaps where disclosure would significantly harm the public interest. In this sense, the Israel government should certainly be held to the same standards as all other governments. Moreover, transparency allows for raising the issue of possible blame, including in relation to the question of potential negligence. Now that more of the circumstances have been highlighted, does it seem that the rescuers were guilty of negligence? Does it seem that they acted in a way that inadequately took into account the safety of the hostages? “No” still seems to be the answer to both of these questions. Nonetheless, we still give thanks to the film-maker. But at the same time, it should be recalled that both Israel and its government are owed both fairness and sound social science. Namely, the Israel government should always be judged by the very same standards that are regularly applied to all other governments. This is a matter of some importance because the tendency to heap unfair criticism on Israel has now become epidemic. A fair critique is always fine, but persistent “discriminatory” criticism is nothing less than antisemitism. Yes, you heard me correctly! Simply on the basis of applying modern human-rights methodologies, the current meaning of antisemitism “includes” persistently targeting Israel and persistently applying to Israel a standard more exigent than regularly applied to other countries in the same or similar circumstances.

Let’s talk straw men. Nothing here was a “secret” or a new exposure. It’s unbelievable that people would waste money on a film like this. What’s next? a film exposing the truth that civilians were killed during WWII?

I don’t get where Etta is coming from on this issue. I’ve read two books on Entebbe and watched one of the movies. None of them shied away from the other deaths, including notably Mimouni, who is shot on screen.

sujaye says:

I always have remembered that a few people died at Entebbe during the raid. I will never forget that day.My father got so excited about the successful raid that he had a heart attack and died the next day.

I want to affirm that anyone who simply followed the news of the raid or saw the Israeli version of the film knows about the civilians who were killed. Mimouni did not get down while all the others did and Dora Bloch swallowed a chicken bone and was taken to hospital. It is said that Idi Amin shot her after the raid. All these facts were well known and not forgotten as a result of myth-making.

A fellow I worked with for many years was in Uganda in the capacity of an aircraft maintenance engineer for Lockheed who had a C-130 or two in a contract with Amin’s government. He was in country as the story was unfolding. Apparently the chap in the radar office had switched off the radar and gone home as there was no one there to relieve him. After the dust settled Amin killed something on the order of four thousand of the man’s fellow tribesmen in payment for the lapse in radar coverage.
Indeed there are many unnamed dead as a result of this hijacking. May all of them be remembered as victims of the madness.

Moses Macferlan says:

The story about Entebbe is all very well, but I remember that at the time it was reported that a young passenger who tried to cheer up everyone else was shot dead by IDF personnel when he stood up. If the story about Mimouni really is new, who was the other guy whose very similar death was reported at the time??

and, in one, a dashing Richard Dreyfus as Yoni Netanyahu.

That was a bloody insult to Yoni’s memory, Dreyfus would have been better cast as Shomron (much closer in shape). Stephen Macht was a great choice for Yoni in the outstanding (compared to this film) Raid on Entebbe.

Strangely the Entebbe rescue happened on the 200th anniversary of the United States (bicentennial fourth of July). A very mind-boggling coincidence. (I’m an American).


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Entebbe’s Forgotten Dead

A new documentary asks why Israel has overlooked the other Jews who died alongside Yoni Netanyahu