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Japanese Red Army 1972 Attack Ben Gurion Airport

Naama Naama with her mother shortlybefore the Lod Airport attack

Incoming passengers entering the main building of Terminal 1 at Ben Gurion Airport are usually hurrying toward passport control and baggage collection, eager to find their luggage and exit the airport to begin their holiday or to go home to wherever they live in Israel.

As the weary, exit-focused passengers enter the arrivals hall, the majority do not notice an impressive memorial across the way, partially obscured by a series of panels welcoming new arrivals.

The memorial is dedicated to 26 Israeli, Puerto Rican and Canadian passengers and others who were waiting on the upper level for family or friends – who were brutally murdered 51 years ago by three Japanese Red Army terrorists in an attack that also left more than 80 injured.

Led by Kozo Okomoto, the terrorists had brazenly boarded an Air France flight from Rome to Tel Aviv, carrying short-butt assault rifles hidden in violin cases they had checked in as hand luggage. Hand grenades had also been stashed in more of their luggage sent through to Tel Aviv, undetected at the Italian check-in and reclaimed at the Lod arrivals hall, in preparation for and used to carry out one of the bloodiest terrorist attacks ever known in Israel.

Eight Israelis, 17 Puerto Rican Christian pilgrims, one of whom was their minister, and a Canadian citizen lost their lives at the facility, then known as Lod Airport. now Ben Gurion International Airport.

Fifty years ago Lod Airport comprised only one terminal, with those waiting to meet and greet the incoming passengers standing behind a thick glass-screened higher level deck so they could see the arrivals – and vice versa – from above the entrance to the arrivals hall and baggage collection area.

In present times, Terminal 1 is used mainly for internal flights and short-haul low-cost flights to neighboring countries such as Greece, Cyprus, Crete and Rhodes, with international flights taking off from and arriving at Terminal 3. 

Naama points to her mother’s name on the memorial to those who died in the 1972 attack at Ben Gurion International Airport, Terminal 1

The memorial to the Israelis and foreign nationals who died in the barbaric Japanese Red Army attack stands against a wall on the left hand side of the Terminal 1 arrival hall. Against this wall, which is covered in beige and off-white stone tiles, stands a clock face, hewn from a massive rock and bearing a deep, jagged crack from the number 10, down across the clock face to the number 4, as if time stood still exactly at that hour – 10.20 – on May 30, 1972, when the bloody attack began.

On the left side of the clock face, the names and dates of birth of the Israeli victims appear in Hebrew, in gold letters on a brown background. On the right hand side a plaque reads in English: IN MEMORY OF THE VICTIMS OF THE TERRORIST ATTACK WHO FELL HERE ON MAY 30, 1972.

In a recent interview, a retired Israeli security official was quoted as having said that in 1972, Lod Airport security was almost non-existent when the three terrorists from the Lebanese-trained Red Army, affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, carried out the murderous attack, and commented that it was "the September 11 turning point of Israeli airport security."

Among the 17 Puerto Rican, Canadian and 8 Israelis, who died in the hail of bullets and grenade explosions unleashed by the Japanese assassins, was eminent professor and Israel Prize recipient Aharon Katzir, the brother of Professor Ephraim Katzir, who became President of Israel a year later.

Waiting on the upper level to greet her husband Uri upon his return from a business trip was 38- year-old mother of three, Henia Rattner from Eilat. Her youngest daughters, 8-year-old Naama and 13-year-old Ofra, were at home with their maternal grandmother Leah Sapir, one of the founders of the Red Sea port and tourist resort. An older sister Omrit was away at a Negev kibbutz boarding school at the time.

Henia Rattner lost her life as she stood anxiously awaiting her husband's arrival. The glass paneling surrounding the upper level was shattered by the exploding grenades the Japanese terrorists pulled out of their bags as they came through on the baggage carousel.

As Uri was stepping off the plane he had travelled on, one of the terrorists burst out of the main building and on to the runway, firing randomly at those on the tarmac. Uri Rattner and other disembarking passengers ran back to the El Al plane or took cover wherever they could as the terrorist fired randomly, before it is believed, he was killed by one of his own exploding hand grenades.

"My mother wanted to surprise my father by meeting him at the airport and had also, as part of the surprise, booked a hotel in Tel Aviv to celebrate a special anniversary – he really had no idea she would be there," explained Naama Rattner-Orme recently, during an emotional visit to the Terminal 1 memorial.

Naama was accompanied by a group of members from Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek who were participating in an organized tour of the extensive Ben Gurion Airport complex. They had received special permission, accompanied by two seasoned official Ben Gurion Airport guides, to pay respects to Naama's mother and those cut down by a hail of bullets and exploding hand grenades just over five decades ago.

Uri and Henia Rattner had been members of the Hashomer Hatzair movement and were among the founder members of Kibbutz Lahav in the Negev, prior to his engineering career at the Timna Copper Mines taking them further south to the shores of the Red Sea.

"My father, who was a chief engineer at the Timna Copper Mines, was responsible for building an underground garage facility to repair heavy mining equipment below ground level, and he travelled abroad extensively as part of his work. He was returning from such a trip on that fateful day," explained Naama, a dental receptionist.

"As we had family in Kiryat Ono, he would often visit them before his departure or upon return from those business trips. After the attack and when he was able, he called them to tell them he was okay and not to worry.

"They in return, asked about Henia and he said she was in Eilat, but they knew that she had gone to the airport to surprise him and when they told him he went to the hospital and found that she was among those who had died," said Naama, who in her teens moved to Mishmar HaEmek to attend boarding school and remained there after her studies.

In amongst a pack of old sepia photographs showing her parents on their wedding day, and of her mother and herself during her childhood, Naama sifted through a number of condolence cards and letters received by Uri Rattner following the terrorist attack. One of them, from Wagner Mining Equipment, Inc., in Portland, Oregan, USA., reads:

"We at Wagner were greatly distressed to hear of the unfortunate and tragic death of your wife, and want you to know of our deep-felt sympathy for you and your children. A donation in your wife's name is being sent to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Uri, we all wish there was more we could do for you as condolences seem so little, our best to you and your children."

 

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Sunday, 25 February 2024

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