A powerful docu-drama has recreated the suspenseful hijacking of a flight to Tel Aviv in 1972 by Fatah extremists, using previously undiscovered audio recordings made by the British-Jewish pilot.
Sabena, shown next week as a special Jewish News screening at the UK Jewish Film Festival, is a heart-pounding account of how four Black September hijackers stormed Sabena Flight 571 en route to Tel Aviv and held its 90 passengers at gunpoint over 30 tension-filled hours.
Threatening to explode a bomb on board the plane, the terrorists demanded the release of 315 convicted Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel.
Refusing to negotiate with them, the Israeli military instead put together a Special Forces unit, Sayeret Matkal, which eventually stormed the jet in a dramatic rescue operation.
All but one of the passengers survived the ordeal. Among the rescue team were Ehud Barak, who commanded Sayeret Matkal, Benjamin Netanyahu, a member of the rescue force, and Shimon Peres, who at that time served as minister of transportation and communications.
All are featured in the film, alongside excerpts from an 80-minute recording made by Captain Reginald Levy, who died in 2010.
The courageous actions of Levy, whose wife Dora was among the passengers held captive, come to the fore in the film’s dramatic re-enactments.
Creator and producer Nati Dinnar, who will take part in a Q&A after the screening next Saturday at JW3, described Levy as “the real hero of this story.”
Speaking to Jewish News, Dinnar said: “It should have been a very tense situation for him. But he functions so calmly. One minute he was about to be killed by the hijackers when he tries to grab their pistol, but a few hours later he managed to convince them to let him go and speak to the Israelis.”
Therese Halsa, one of the four hijackers, was sentenced to 220 years in prison – a life sentence for every individual – and served 13 years, contributes to the documentary with her viewpoint.
Despite more than four decades passing since the incident, Halsa remains unrepentant for her actions. “I wish it had a different ending. Honestly, I wanted to blow up the plane. That’s the truth.”
Dinnar felt it was important to include interviews with both Halsa and Bassam Abu Sharif, a former senior adviser to Yasser Arafat who personally knew one of the hijackers, to present a balance of viewpoints. But he added: “I can understand where they’re coming from. I can’t understand their actions.”
• Sabena is showing on Saturday, 14 November, 6.45pm at a special Jewish News screening at JW3. Producer Nati Dinnar takes part in a Q&A after the screening. Details: 020 7433 8988 or www.ukjewishfilm.org