Berlin: '7 Days in Entebbe' Questions Benjamin Netanyahu's Version of History

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival
Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruhl in '7 Days in Entebbe'

The Israeli Prime Minister has always maintained that his brother played a heroic role in a historic 1976 hostage crisis, but director Jose Padilha's drama tells a different story.

When the Focus Features thriller 7 Days in Entebbe makes its world premiere in Berlin on Monday, it is certain to draw the ire of one of the most prominent world leaders.

That’s because the film, which chronicles the 1976 Israeli rescue mission of a hijacked Air France jet en route from Tel Aviv to Paris, sheds new light on the events that claimed the life of Benjamin Netanyahu’s older brother.

For decades, the Israeli Prime Minister and his family have held to a version of the events, in which Yonatan “Yoni” was the key hero who ensured the rescue of all but four of the 106 hostages and was killed by a terrorist from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine at the end of the raid. But in the film, Yoni (Angel Bonanni) plays a less significant role in the mission and is shot by a Ugandan soldier earlier in the mission (the hijackers had diverted the jet to Uganda where then-dictator Idi Amin welcomed them).

“It’s not a narrative that the Israeli Prime Minister is going to like at all,” says historian Saul David, whose book Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport serves as the basis for Gregory Burke’s screenplay. “He’s put a lot of pressure, even on people who are involved in the story. I mean he hasn’t actually said, ‘Change the story.’ But, ‘This is the way it happened, didn’t it?’”

The Entebbe operation has been portrayed in numerous Israeli films over the years, including 1977’s Operation Thunderbolt starring Klaus Kinski and a documentary of the same name in 2000, in which the younger Netanyahu participated. The storylines have always followed his family’s version.

But in 2015, Entebbe’s British producers at Working Title, already developing a film, heard that David was working on a book that would provide new revelations and optioned it. Director Jose Padilha (Narcos) says he was determined to keep the story accurate, even if it ruffled feathers.

“It was very important to me to try to get as many details right as possible,” he says. “We talked to lots of people who were there at the time, including five or six soldiers who were part of the raid itself. The criteria was to run with direct witnesses, as opposed to people who said ‘I heard’ or ‘I believe’ it was like this. So I think we are close to the truth.”

Padilha enlisted Amir Ofer, a former member of the Israeli Defense Force and a veteran of the raid, as a technical adviser. “Of course, it’s still a movie, so there needed to be some additional material,” says Ofer. “But [Padilha] really was looking to create the most authentic depiction of the operation itself.”

Sources say Focus has screened the film, which stars Rosamund Pike and Daniel Bruhl as Germany-born terrorists who sympathize with the Palestinian cause, for foreign policy experts who gave overwhelmingly positive feedback on the authenticity.

THR reached out to Netanyahu’s office when the film was in production last year but received no response.

Says David: "The Israeli version of events about Entebbe that always played out is that Yoni is the great hero of the story. Well, the reality is he’s a player in the story, but he’s probably not the most significant player. And there are certain errors that he makes during the operation itself."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Feb. 18 daily issue at the Berlin Film Festival.

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