June 10, 2016 — Washington, D.C.
AJC presented its Moral Courage Award to two heroes, Michel Bacos and Tzvi Har-Nevo, who played vital roles in the rescue of more than 100 passengers and crew on a hijacked Air France jet 40 years ago.
“Tzvi and Michel stared down enemies and stood up for innocent people,” said AJC Board of Governors member Steven Wisch, who presented the awards at the AJC Global Forum. “They risked their lives to save others. They displayed tremendous moral and physical courage in the face of daunting odds.”
Bacos was the captain of Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris, seized on June 27, 1976, after a stop in Athens, by Palestinian and German terrorists who redirected the flight to Entebbe, Uganda. Bacos, along with the other 11 crew members, elected to stay with the Jewish hostages after the 148 non-Jewish passengers were released by the terrorists. The crew and the 94 Jewish passengers, most of them Israeli, were held hostage and threatened with death.
“Michel Bacos is a beacon of heroism and courage, and an inspiration to us all,” states the Moral Courage Award inscription.
“My father strongly believed that he was only doing his duty as an Air France captain. When you take responsibility, you don’t leave passengers behind,” said Jean-Claude Bacos, the 92-year-old retired pilot’s son, who traveled to Washington to accept the award on behalf of his father. He saluted the “incredible courage” of the Israeli commandos who risked their own lives to rescue the crew and passengers.
On July 4, those commandos flew more than 2,500 miles to Entebbe. The success of the mission hinged on the ability of the four Israeli planes to fly the 5,000 miles round-trip without being detected, and Har-Nevo, the lead navigator, was key to carrying out what was arguably the most daring rescue operation in Israeli military history
“We were staying low, flying through the night over the dark terrain of Africa” during the seven-hour flight from Israel, Har-Nevo recalled. “Our maps had not been updated in many years. There was no GPS. The only navigation tools I had were a compass and radar,” he said. “I needed to harness every ounce of focus and skill to ensure that we didn’t deviate from the planned route and from our scheduled timing.”
The Israeli commandos spent about 40 minutes on the ground in Entebbe before safely returning to Israel with more than 102 freed hostages, making a refueling stop in Kenya. Three hostages were killed by hostile gunfire in the rescue operation. Another hostage, who was in a local hospital after falling ill during the hijacking ordeal, was later murdered by Ugandan forces.
Yonatan Netanyahu--brother of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu— who led the attack, was fatally wounded during the Israeli rescue mission. “It was a sad moment, a shocking moment,” said Har-Nevo. “I still think of Yoni today, and remember his bravery, his heroism, and his moral courage.”
The inscription on the Moral Courage Award to Har-Nevo states: “In grateful recognition of your courageous and heroic role in Operation Entebbe.”
The two-day annual AJC Global Forum marked the 110th year of AJC. The event was the largest in the organization’s history, attracting over 2,700 people from across the U.S. and over 70 countries, including key political figures, high-ranking diplomats, and hundreds of young people from around the world.