Operation Entebbe hostage and rescuer share moving reunion 47 years on

Monique Epstein, one of the hostages taken by terrorists before the operation, meets with the man who rescued her and many others and recounts the soldier's valor

Tuesday will mark the 47th anniversary of Operation Entebbe - a counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission carried out by IDF commandos at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The daring rescue mission later came to be known as Operation Jonathan, named after Lieutenant Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu, the leader of the rescue force who was killed during the operation.
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"Every July 4, I send a happy birthday greeting by email to the hostages I’m in contact with. It's the day we were reborn, the day we received the gift of life," says Monique Epstein, a French national who was rescued in the operation.
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Hostages after landing back in Israel
On Sunday, June 27, 1976, 105 passengers of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris were kidnapped by German and Palestinian terrorists, who took them hostage with the aim of exchanging them for imprisoned Palestinian terrorists in Israel and other countries.
On July 4th, an Israeli military contingent arrived in Uganda to rescue the hostages. Maj. Gen. (res.) Doron Almog, who at the time commanded the Paratroopers Brigade, was the first soldier to set foot in Entebbe.
Monique Epstein was one of the hostages he saved during the operation. Over the weekend, they met each other in a moving encounter. Almog, today the head of the Jewish Agency, came to Paris to meet with the leaders of the Jewish community in France and those planning to make Aliyah.
He took advantage of his stay in the city to meet with Epstein as well. The two embraced each other, and Monique showed him photos and newspaper clippings from the days of the operation, which she has kept to this day.
Epstein was in her 20s during the operation. At the time, she resided in Israel with her husband, Gaby. She told Almog that as someone whose parents went through the horrors of the Holocaust, the most difficult moment for her was when the German terrorists separated the Israeli and Jewish passengers from the rest.
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Doron Almog during his service in the IDF
Thirty-four years earlier, in July 1942, French Jews underwent selection — a process of designating inmates for either execution or forced labor at Nazi concentration camps, and Monique's father was saved by a priest. The clergyman was later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by the State of Israel.
Since Monique spoke German, she served as an interpreter between the hijackers who spoke German and the flight crew and other passengers.
"The German hijackers didn't know how to handle the passengers who held two passports, like me. That's why they asked me questions. Jean-Jacques Maimoni, who was killed during the rescue operation, was questioned for hours," she recounted.
Over the years, she kept in touch with some of the hostages and even participated in the funeral of the plane’s French steward, Michel Bacos, who insisted on staying with the Israeli and Jewish passengers and refused to be released with the others.
"The meeting with Doron was very special," Monique said. "Only after it ended did I realize how moved I was. It took me time to process it. In recent years, I’ve met two more soldiers who took part in the operation and saved our lives. Over the years, I didn't deal with it much because I thought it was more appropriate to focus on the future.”
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Doron Almog and Monique Epstein
“But when I met the soldiers and Doron, many pieces of the puzzle fell into place for me,” she added. “Before that, I didn't know much about all the planning that went into the operation behind the scenes. In these conversations, I understood that Israel lacked information about what happened inside the plane."
Almog said, "It was important for me to meet Monique Epstein to feel the solidarity that once united us, that is being tested today, to feel through her story the moments of fear that accompanied the hostages, and to remember our moral duty to help hostages, not only those held at gunpoint.”
“To recall again the soul-searching and total readiness to embark on an extreme operation, 4,000 kilometers away from Israel, and to save lives,” he added. “To remember once again that Operation Entebbe is a moral benchmark in everything we do."
Monique shared her love for Israel and the stories of heroism from the operation with her children. Her eldest son, who grew up with these stories, decided to make Aliyah and enlist in the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade, just like Almog and other soldiers in the rescue team.
"He stayed to live in Israel and still serves in the reserves," she proudly says. "I suggested to Doron that our next meeting would take place in Israel, together with my children."
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