Life in Uganda: Musings on Israel (in Uganda)

It's very sad to think about Israel at war. It's harder still to think of the civilians and soldiers that have lost their lives on both sides of this most recent clash.

I came to Uganda from Tel Aviv, where for two weeks in late May and early June I crashed at a friends apartment, ate delicious Israeli salad with feta cheese, sabech (that addictive and delectable pita stuffed with eggplant, onions, potatoes, hummus, tahini, and various other sauces) sat on the beach endlessly and wrote a little bit at Mersand, a coffee shop a few blocks from the beach on Ben Yehuda Street. One day, at dusk, I ran down the beach, and watched the sunset from the ancient Arab port city of Jaffa.

Uganda has been the host of two fascinating moments of Israeli history. Perhaps most obscurely, in 1903, the British Foreign Minister offered Theodor Herzl and his Zionists cohorts a prime piece of Ugandan real estate (land naturally richer than Israel). Hertzl desperately wanted to accept, mostly because he had seen the pogroms in Russia, but many of his compatriots would only accept the Holy Land. It's fascinating to think what might have been if the Jewish state was established in East Africa.

A bit more prominently (at least in Israeli history) is the 1976 raid on Entebbe. To summarize a several day long epic: Palestinian and German terrorists highjacked a plane traveling from Tel Aviv, via Athens, to Paris. They landed the plane, first in Libya, then in Uganda, where the maniacal and profanely stupid Idi Amin welcomed them. They were kept at the airport terminal in Entebbe, where 3 days later, Sayaret Matkal, an elite Israeli special forces unit led by the charismatic Bebe Netenyahu, staged a night time landing at the airport. They rolled out a replica of Idi Amin's limousine, pretending to be the leader visiting the hostages. They hopped out of the limo guns ablaze and freed all the hostages except two. There was only one Israeli casualty, the unit commander, Netanyahu. The success of the rescue was a huge boost of Israeli pride and a huge embarrassment for Amin.
Last evening I went to the airport at Entebbe to pick up a close friend. On Entebbe Road, just before the new airport, framed with the beautiful background of Lake Victoria, I briefly saw the shell of the bombed out old Air France plane, kept as a memorial to the highjacking.

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