by Ezra HaLevi
Author David Raab, who survived one of history's most audacious terrorist acts, spoke with Israel National Radio's Eve Harrow about his new book, "Terror in Black September."
Raab spoke about his decision, years later, to compile archived documents and testimony surrounding the three-week drama of being held as a hostage by PLO terrorists in
"The situation in Jordan then was very similar to what was going on in Gaza just a few months ago, with the Palestinian Authority nominally in charge but in fact Hamas running rampant through the streets, running its own checkpoints and basically a state within a state," Raab explains of the political environment surrounding the episode. "In 1970, Yasser Arafat and the PLO were playing [the Hamas] role and King Hussein was at his wits end."
On Sunday, September 6, 1970, 17-year-old Raab, his mother and his four younger siblings boarded a plane in Tel Aviv after spending the summer in
The teenage Raab – he preserves his original memories recorded immediately after the saga by using italics in his book – first recalled a spate of hijackings to
Raab's book is unique in that it uses the methods of the so-called New Historians in
"There were a couple of US Defense Department officials sitting nearby who began cutting out sections of classified documents and eating them," Raab recalls, speaking with hindsight of what seemed a bizarre response to the terrorists' announcement at the time. "They were returning from a series of meetings in the
Raab and the rest of the passengers on the flight began circling over the Jordanian desert, where the terrorists forced the crew to land without a real runway. "We landed on salt flats in the desert," he said. "The pilot was very worried and thought we would crash on landing."
Thus began what Raab terms "a three-week nightmare." The PLO terrorists turned off all the lights on the plane, collected the passengers' passports and asked them to fill out forms with their names, addresses and religions.
"At the time just being in
A second plane, this one Swissair, had also been hijacked over Europe on its way to the
Two more planes had been successfully hijacked that day in addition to a failed attempt to take an El Al flight - a record that held until the attacks on September 11, 2001. "They hijacked a Pan Am 747 also out of Europe, took it to Cairo and wired it with explosives, lit the fuse while the plane was still in the air, and the plane blew up only seconds after the last passengers had exited," Raab recalls.
The terrorists demanded that
The PLO was an umbrella organization of which PFLP was a part. Yasser Arafat applauded the PFLP for the "spectacular hijack." King Hussein was furious with Arafat. "This was the last straw as it was a real slap in the face to Hussein," Raab said. "These terror groups had now brought hundreds of innocent civilians to his country and he was powerless to do anything about it because we were hostage to these terror organizations."
After a week filled with tension and sheer terror for the passengers – which can only be understood by reading Raab's detailed account - the planes were blown up and most of the women and children were sent home. The PFLP held on to 54 people, including 38 Americans. Raab was one of them.
"I was 17, Jewish and they claimed that I was an Israeli soldier," he said. The book recounts his family agonizing over how to get rid of a costume IDF uniform they had purchased and photos they had taken with real soldiers.
"They took people off in groups at first. I was taken as part of a group of seven people they claimed were Israeli soldiers, even though we were all Americans. We were all Jewish (except one) and between the ages of 17 and 35. There were only two adult males who were Israeli – and they were dual Israeli-US citizens. One of the miracles of this whole episode were that there were not more, first of all, and that there were no pure adult male Israeli citizens.
"The Palestinians at first thought that it was a bluff. They claimed that there were about 50 Israelis on board. In those days they didn't have automated reservation systems and it took quite a few days until the world realized there were no Israeli citizens on board and they were really all Americans. The
"Well, I survived," Raab laughed. "How I survived is very interesting, but you'll have to read the book.
"For the last ten days we actually sat in the middle of a civil war. After the PLO and PFLP had blown up the planes and held onto the 54, King Hussein decided the time had come to crack down on the PLO. And this was encouraged by the
"By Wednesday, September 16, we were 32 Americans in a three-room apartment in
"It affected me in a lot of ways, in terms of priorities in life. I became obsessed with
For more information or to purchase the book, visit terrorinblackseptember.com
Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.