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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Speaker discusses experience as flight hostage in Jordan

Published: March 7, 2008
Section: News

The Brandeis Zionist Alliance brought author David Raab to speak Tuesday about his book Terror in Black September, which recounts his experience and subsequent research about the Dawson’s Field Hijacking of September 1970.

Seventeen year-old Raab spent the summer of 1970 in Israel with his family and boarded TWA Flight 741 from Frankfurt with his mother and four siblings. Before take-off, he saw two men running down the plane with two hand grenades and a pistol. Raab’s first reaction was one of excitement.“hey we’re being hijacked – cool!”

However, his initial excitement quickly turned into fear when the hijackers informed the passengers that they were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Raab noted that the passengers of the plane were subdued as the plane shifted direction and landed on Dawson’s Field in Jordan.

“Outside [the plane] we saw all these Palestinian terrorists outside…I thought they were going to shoot us up,” said Raab.

The passengers were ordered to hand in their passports and fill out forms. Raab recalled, “as we are filling out these forms, we saw two flames coming at us. I thought it was a bomb coming at the plane, but it was actually another plane. The engines caught fire and managed to stop to plane about 100 feet behind us.”

Seeing another plane cheered up the passengers. “When we saw the plane coming down we actually started clapping. The more hostages there were, the better chance there was for us to be released,” he said.

The passengers spent one week on the plane without running water, working lights, and small amounts of food. At one time, some of the passengers were taken outside and rounded up outside the plane. Many of the passengers on Raab’s plane were Holocaust survivors and began to panic as people were rounded up, and memories of the concentration camps stirred in their minds. Raab even “ imagined I was in the Holocaust, and I was in a concentration camp.”

“They were trying to find…Israelis on the plane. Unfortunately on our plane there were no pure Israelis, only two Americans who had previously lived in Israel.” The PLFP interrogated his mother twice because they found a membership card for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. “They went through our luggage…and held people at gunpoint trying to prove they were Israelis.”

Raab was separated from his family when he was awoken and taken off the plane. Raab began to shake and couldn’t even sign his name on a form he was forced to sign when leaving the plane. He and nine other men were taken to Amman and held hostage in a refugee camp.

“At one point we tried to play word games and we actually started to laugh,” Raab recalled. “The terrorists looked into the room and told us to shut up and again we became very frightened.”

Ten days after the hijacking, Raab was taken to a small apartment with 31 other Americans. “For the first time in a week in a half we had all the important things in life,” said Raab.

The next morning Raab awoke at 5 in the morning to machine gun fire. King Hussein of Jordan decided that “he wanted to take back his country from the PLFP,” according to Raab. “For the next ten days we sat under shelling and bombardment and machine gun fire and now we worried that we might not just be killed on purpose but we realized that we might be killed by mistake.”

On Sept. 26, an Egyptian official told them the Red Cross was rescuing them. An Egyptian official took Raab and his communions through Amman. Raab described the scene as a “war ravaged city like you see in the movies.”

The next morning Raab and the other hostages were flown off to Rome and met President Nixon who was on a pre-arranged trip. Raab specifically remembers one person in the group saying, “President Nixon we missed you – we haven’t heard from you in three weeks.”

After his speech, Raab reminisced, “it was a miracle I made it our alive. In looking back at the records, no one thought we were going to make it out alive.”