En Route to Adventure
ON Monday, August 14, in Sarafand, Israel, two Arab girls were sentenced to life imprisonment for their share in hijacking a Belgian airliner and forcing it to land at Lod airport in Israel. One of the judges had favored the death penalty.
Three months earlier, as news of the skyjacking was flashed around the world, on May 9, radio broadcasters related what was taking place in the tense drama that was unfolding at Lod. We listened.
How does it feel to know one is about to land at the same airport later in the day? Members of our party were jumpy! In a few minutes we were to board a British European Airlines DC 9 and leave London’s international airport en route to Israel. What would happen when our flight arrived? We wondered.
Four members of the Black September Arab Commandos’ organization had hijacked a Sabena Boeing 707 and threatened to blow it up, killing all on board, unless a hundred Arab guerrilla terrorists were freed.
Reports said that the airplane was packed with plastic charges and that the hijackers were carrying grenades. Tension mounted as negotiations between the Arabs and Lt. Gen. David Elazar, Israeli armed forces Chief of Staff, continued during the night.
Our plane would not arrive until seven hours later. Surely by then—we were trying to reassure ourselves—the problem would be resolved.
Security procedures at the London airport did nothing to allay our fears. Passengers were X-rayed before they boarded the plane. Everything was thoroughly checked—baggage, purses, even lipstick tubes were opened. Only then were passengers cleared for boarding.
Passengers a Mosaic of Israel’s Population
What a varied group we were! The contrasts were remarkable! In one of the new, well-appointed seats a sun-bronzed patriarch, dressed in flowing robes, watched through his window as the plane sped down the runway at over 150 miles an hour. A white kerchief bound to his head by a double row of braid framed his deeply etched face. The passenger shifted his legs, exposing his well-worn leather-thonged sandals. In this era of supersonic speed, it seemed that he had stepped out of the past. The Bible patriarch Abraham might have been so attired when Jehovah promised him that his seed would inherit the Holy Land.
Our busy air hostess was probably unaware of the incongruous scene she had created when she ushered two women to seats beside this traveler. Jewish Americans, they were traveling to Israel in bold, color-splashed, printed pant suits. Their dangling bracelets clanked in rhythm with the gestures that accompanied their animated conversation. Still, with the high cheekbones, aquiline noses, tawny hair, the proud carriage, the traces of beauty were there.
And there were children. One daddy juggled three dark-eyed moppets from knee to knee during the long flight, but his irritation showed. Here was the imperfect human, lacking the patience of Jesus, who took young children into his arms, not in irritation, but to bless them.—Mark 10:16.
Immigrants, tourists, Arabs, students, priests—our passengers were a miniature mosaic of the diverse population of Israel itself, for the country is a collection of minorities coming from remarkably disparate backgrounds.
Why the Land’s Attraction?
What is the candle that attracts people like moths from all over the earth to this land? Surely it cannot be a search for peace, for Israel is not a land of peace. It teeters precariously on the brink of war and is surrounded, to a large extent, by the lands of enemies that have sworn to destroy it. Israel’s sheep are still made to lie down in grassy pastures and are conducted by well-watered resting places just like those described by the psalmist David, but today the shepherd carries a rifle over his shoulder.
In Biblical days Moses was commanded by Jehovah to send spies to scout out the land before the children of Israel possessed it. They found a richly productive land. But the spies did not have to carry submachine guns. Today, as the hay is baled and the land again yields its increase, girls wearing faded army fatigues and carrying weapons oversee the operation. Male or female, almost everyone does military service. Even women who are automatically excused if they come from Orthodox families, in many cases decide that it is their duty to join forces that will defend their country.
In this land military reminders are everywhere. At the Sea of Galilee where Jesus preached, “Happy are the peaceable, since they will be called ‘sons of God,’” tractors are armored; children play near air-raid shelters. They have been alerted by parents to listen for the sirens that signal danger.
At the Mount of Beatitudes, where there is a natural amphitheater with acoustics so superb that thousands could have heard the Sermon on the Mount, barbwire fences, a grim reminder of war, remain. For relative peace in the area has existed only since 1967, when the Israelis were victorious after a six-day war with the Arabs, Previously guns and mortars had, for nineteen years, shelled residents from the heights.
On roads running close to the Syrian border small red triangles dot the landscape, warning that danger may still be lurking there. These and the occasional overturned tank remain as evidence of political hate and intimidation.
Such were the feelings that were behind the hijacking that was being attempted at Lod airport now. Officials of the International Red Cross were also involved in trying desperately to negotiate a settlement. The hijackers, two men and two girls, were becoming impatient. At stake were the lives of the ninety-seven passengers aboard the Sabena jet. Still, throughout the incident, Israeli officials refused to budge. They were determined to demonstrate that the State would not tolerate air piracy and blackmail as a means of gaining the release of imprisoned guerrillas. The situation was critical. What if the terrorists blew up the plane and destroyed the runway on which we were to land?
No, truly, the thousands of tourists who visit Israel each year are not seeking a land without tension. More often they hope to step back in time, gain deeper insight, and strengthen their faith by returning to the land where ancient religious dramas took place. In this respect the Holy Land lives up to its promise, for it has been the focal point in the development of three of the world’s major religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam—here the cherished symbols and edifices are intricately mixed.
Events of the Past Come to Life
For the Christian the land is a treasure-house. There is Nazareth, boyhood home of Jesus, a hilly town. The terrain is a reminder that when Jesus returned here to preach, the inhabitants, convinced that he was merely a son of Joseph, became angry at his words and “led him to the brow of the mountain upon which their city had been built, in order to throw him down headlong.” (Luke 4:29) In the marketplace, people and donkeys still share the narrow streets as they did in Jesus’ day. Artisans still ply ancient crafts. A blacksmith fashions a scythe by hand. The well where Mary may have drawn her water supply is a favorite attraction.
The Bible really comes alive as one stands on Mount Tabor and visualizes Barak descending with 10,000 men behind him to defeat the forces of Sisera after Jehovah had thrown the enemy force into confusion. Mount Gilboa, standing between the river Kishon and the Jordan valley, is a reminder that here Saul and three of his sons were slain. And what was formerly the small village of Nain brings to mind the happiness of a lonely widow when Jesus raised her only son from the dead.
In and around Jerusalem, the capital, a visitor can walk through thousands of years of history in a few minutes. Here are the Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, Mount Zion and Calvary. Here is the famous Jewish wailing wall; also the place where Herod reigned. And here Christ wept over the city: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her,—how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it. Look! Your house is abandoned to you.”—Matt. 23:37, 38.
And Jerusalem was indeed destroyed. After this, many of the Jews took refuge at Safad, a city built after the destruction. Today the routes to this city are picturesque because of the storks, birds with a height of four feet and a magnificent wingspan, and which regularly migrate through Palestine from their winter quarters in Africa.
Here in Israel the scholar can follow the path that Jesus walked, examine the Oriental features of the inhabitants of the modern State, see the traditional garments that Jews have worn for centuries, and hear Greek, Arabic and Hebrew spoken as events of the past come to life. Movement, life and color are added to the written Word. In an age of cynicism and doubt, reverence is felt; the need for worship is reinforced.
Truly the words of Goethe especially apply to the historic state of Israel: “If you want to understand the poet, visit his country.” This is why we came.
Arrival at Lod
For over half an hour our plane circled the runway. The airport was alive with activity and we could not land. Then clearance—and relief! We were coming down. There was the Sabena jet surrounded by army trucks.
Israeli troops, disguised as airport mechanics, had taken control of the aircraft. In the assault the two male Arabs had been killed, one of the girl hijackers wounded and the second one captured. Passengers leaped, climbed and slid from the plane. Israeli authorities who had not given in for fear that such action would encourage further attempts at guerrilla extortion were victorious. The two girls now were faced with life-long imprisonment.
As we waited at the curb for our taxi, ambulances roared past. It seemed as though half the population of Israel must have been at the airport to see the drama. Among them was Moshe Dayan.
Tension, relief—our feelings were mixed as we headed for Haifa. The incident was over, but the opportunity to visit the sites that marked the lives of the patriarchs and the founders of Christianity, the real adventure, was about to begin.—Contributed.