Entebbe’s Forgotten Dead
A new documentary asks why Israel has overlooked the other Jews who died alongside Yoni Netanyahu
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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