by: Nathan Williams, Director of Marketing and Communications
Many a suspense-filled film features bank robbers and their failed attempts to escape with the loot before the police arrive. In desperation, the robbers take those unlucky individuals trapped in the bank as hostages. What ensues is usually a tension-filled negotiation as the criminals try to leverage the lives of their innocent captives to ensure their own escape. For the hostages, it is generally about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a mere stroke of bad fortune. In real-life hostage situations, the selection of hostages is targeted, a premeditated plan to leverage the most valuable hostages to ensure that demands are met. The Jewish people are targeted for this exact purpose. Terrorists view Jews as valuable collateral, and their captors somehow believe that the Jewishness of their hostages will ensure a favorable outcome for their demands.
Steven Spielberg immortalized in film the events and aftermath of the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. Eight terrorists from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) disguised themselves as athletes and gained access to the apartment complex where the Israeli Olympic athletes were staying. Two Israeli athletes were murdered immediately and nine others taken hostage. Demands were made for the release of 234 Arab prisoners from Israeli jails as well as two German terrorists. After a 23-hour standoff and a failed rescue attempt, all the Israeli hostages were killed.
Just two years later, on Israeli Independence Day 1974, three terrorists disguised as Israeli soldiers snuck over the border into Ma’alot, Israel, from Lebanon. Again they demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners. In the horrific unfolding of the drama, 25 hostages were killed, including 22 children, and a further 68 were injured.
Another two years later on June 27, 1976, Air France Flight 139 from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked. During a scheduled stopover in Athens, Greece, six hijackers boarded the plane, demanding that 40 Palestinian militants imprisoned in Israel and 13 prisoners in four other countries be released. The hijacked flight was redirected to Entebbe, Uganda, where then-dictator Idi Amin provided safe passage and refuge.
Upon arrival in Entebbe, Jewish and Israeli hostages were separated out from other captives. “It was a similar selection process the Nazis administered when selecting who would go work and who would be sent to the gas chambers,” says Lt.–Col. (res.) Mor, the navigator of one of the Israeli rescue planes sent to Entebbe.
Shockingly, all other non-Jewish/Israeli hostages were released, while the 94 remaining Jewish/Israeli hostages as well as eight airline crew were threatened with death. Following a daring rescue operation, 102 hostages were rescued and two were killed.
The tragic events do not stop there. Daniel Pearl, a Wall Street Journal reporter, was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2002 and held as ransom by the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty. The video of his eventual execution was titled: “Slaughter of the Spy-Journalist, the Jew Daniel Pearl.”
Gilad Shalit, a young Israeli soldier, was captured by Hamas during an attack near Gaza in 2006. Only in 2011, after years of negotiations and the release of 1,027 Hamas and Palestinian prisoners was Shalit finally released.
Sadly, it has become a reality in Israel and for the global Diaspora (Jewish population outside Israel) that hostage taking is a very real and present threat.
A homeless stranger knocked on the synagogue door of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, on January 15, 2022. In an act of mercy, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker invited him in out of the cold for tea and a warm place to shelter. It is, after all, a biblical mandate to care for those less fortunate. However, British Pakistani Malik Faisal Akram had ulterior motives. Moments after being shown warm hospitality, Akram revealed a weapon and took Rabbi Cytron-Walker and three congregants hostage. According to media reports, Akram demanded the release of an Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist, Aafia Siddiqui, currently serving an 86-year sentence in a Fort Worth prison for plotting terror attacks against US military targets and FBI agents.
An 11-hour standoff ensued, with Akram releasing one hostage after six hours. It was in the final hour that Akram became more aggressive and instructed the remaining three Jewish hostages to kneel down in the position commonly known as “execution style.” Once this happened, Rabbi Cryton-Walker knew that they had to act.
Rabbi Cryton-Walker and the hostages positioned themselves close to an exit, distracted Akram and then threw a chair at their captor, allowing them to escape. As is common practice with Jewish community leaders around the world, Rabbi Cryton-Walker had participated in several security courses offered by the police, FBI and other organizations, which he credited with helping him identify the right moment to flee. The FBI stormed the synagogue, and Akram was shot multiple times, dying on scene.
While initially the investigators of the FBI Dallas field office stated that the hostage situation in Colleyville was not “specifically related to the Jewish community,” statements made by Akram and captured on the livestream of the Shabbat (Sabbath) service from Congregation Beth Israel paints a different picture. In an interview with CNN, one of the hostages, Jeffrey Cohen, said that Akram had stated plainly that he had chosen their synagogue because “Jews control the world. Jews control the media. Jews control the banks.” The FBI later revised its statement, labelling the events as “an act of terrorism targeting the Jewish community.”
The hostage taking of Jews is nothing new. Demonized through conspiracy theory, learned hatred and bigotry, Jews are targeted as the desired captives of crazed terrorists who want to have their demands met. Perhaps it is the knowledge that in Judaism, life and preservation of life is such a vital concept. Perhaps terrorists expect that if their hostages are Jewish, even more effort will be made to meet their demands. Indeed, Jewish lives are valuable, but what a sad state of the world where Jews are viewed as bargaining chips in the wicked plans of evil men.
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