Sabena Hijacking, directed by Rani Sa'ar, is a fascinating feature-length film which was broadcast on Israeli TV Channel 2 this week. It provides an interesting combination of documentary and historical drama and offers a re-enactment of the hijacking of the Sabena airliner in 1972 in which four members of the Black September terrorist group grabbed a passenger plane on the way to Tel Aviv in an attempt to free about 300 Palestinian activists from Israeli prisons. They threatened to blow up the plane and all of its passengers and crew if the prisoners were not released.
The film –which was riveting and engrossing--combines dramatic re-enactment with exclusive interviews with people who were involved with the incident, including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who were members of the elite army unit, Sayeret Matkal, that was chosen to storm the plane. In a controversial move, the daring filmmakers juxtapose the stories of these Israeli heroes with that of the sole surviving hijacker, Therese Halsa,--a former Israeli citizen who was in Israeli prison for a long time and later released to Jordan, where she now lives and where she was interviewed --who provided a strong voice for the Palestinian point of view. Halsa's compelling character in the re-enactment considers herself a "freedom fighter" and she says the Israelis are the "terrorists" because they have taken away "our land".
In addition, the story portrays the captain of the plane, Reginald Levy, a British Jew, whose diary of the events was an important source of information as to what happened on the plane. Captain Reginald, who remained level-headed and felt very responsible for his passengers (perhaps also because his wife was traveling on the plane) and was in a way a neutral voice. In addition to the many military heroes of this famous incident in Israel's history of fighting terror, a surprising hero of the story is a member of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, an Israeli Jew whose parents came from Syria, who spoke fluent Arabic, and was appointed to be the negotiator with the hijackers. He did an extraordinary job of trying to gain their trust while keeping cool and continuously misleading them, until the IDF commando unit Sayeret Matkal was in place, dressed as technicians and ready to storm the plane.
This film was particularly unusual for an Israeli documentary/drama in that it actually revealed both narratives, the mainstream Israeli one and the Palestinian one. According to a review in Ha'aretz by Itay Stern, the film's director, Rani Sa'ar, said that in making the film, they had to decide who was the hero of the story. "We started editing the filmed interviews, and then the story's dramatic human aspect became clear. There are heroes on the Israeli side, but also on the Palestinian side."
Sabena Hijacking was made for Israel TV Channel 2 by Keshet. The creator and producer of the film is Nati Dinnar (firstname.lastname@example.org). Watch the trailer.