In 1976, an Air France plane making its way from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists and arrived at Entebbe. IDF commandos, led by Sayeret Matkal commander Yonatan Netanyahu, stormed the old terminal in Entebbe where the hostages were kept and released them, killing all of the terrorists and some 20 Ugandan soldiers who aided them.
"'We came to take you home,' these simple words, which touched and still touch our hearts and souls, are what IDF commandos told the hostages," Rivlin said. "Simple words that encompass all of the hope, faith, strength, camaraderie and devotion of the IDF soldiers."
"This is one of the more complex and impressive operations the IDF has ever conducted. This is one of the tales of heroics, one of the more wonderful in modern times and in the history of the State of Israel," the president continued. "This is the essence of Zionism, a symbol of sacrifice and solidarity, of the total devotion of the State of Israel towards its citizens, whoever they may be."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lost his brother in the operation, said the operation was significant because "31 years after the Holocaust, we received an unequivocal proof of the importance of having a national home. When news that the Arab and German terrorists separated Jews from non-Jews arrived to Israel, memories of the Holocaust resurfaced."
"The daring rescue mission illustrated what a long way we've come from Auschwitz to Entebbe," Netanyahu continued. "We have strength, determination, unity and cohesion in times of crisis. Even before Entebbe, from Sabena (another plane hijacking in 1972) to Savoy (attack on hotel in 1975) we set the precedent that if we know where the hostages are, we will rescue them."
Both Netanyahu and Rivlin praised paratrooper Surin Hershko who was wounded in the operation and left paralyzed from the neck down.
"I salute you, Surin, to your exceptional bravery," Netanyahu said. "Surin, with his noble soul. We've been meeting you for 40 years and I am in awe—there's no other word—every time we meet, of your noble soul, the immense strength you have, your determination to continue living your life, to learn and create. We love you with all of our hearts."
Sara Guter Davidson, one of the hostages, thanked Shimon Peres who was the defense minister at the time of the operation. "I thank the Israeli government and everyone who took part for the fact my family and I and everyone else who experienced this horrible witch hunt were able to return home and become free once more. Today I have the privilege of saying thank you to you, Shimon Peres, for doing all you could with vision, courage and creative thought."
Rivlin also spoke of the five Israelis who were killed, including Yoni Netanyahu and four of the hostages.
The president went on to say that "this is an operation that gave and still gives moral validation to the State of Israel's continued fight against terrorism."