Flashback: May 30, 1972Forty years ago today, three Japanese terrorists boarded an Air France flight from Paris to Tel Aviv via Rome. Upon arrival in Israel, they passed through security, customs and police without being detected as suspicious or threatening (they did not belong to a high risk ethnic or racial population). At the baggage claim area, they opened their luggage, pulled out automatic weapons and hand grenades from what looked like violin cases, and opened fire on everyone in sight. Twenty-six people were murdered and 80 were wounded in what was later referred to as the Lod Airport Massacre.
On that day, 40 years ago, three inconspicuous Japanese men dressed in business suits disembarked Air France Flight 132 from Rome and strolled into the baggage claim area. After retrieving what appeared to be violin cases, the men pulled out machine guns, opened fire and threw grenades indiscriminately at the crowds of people. One of the three, Tsuyoshi Okudaira, ran out onto the tarmac and began shooting at passengers descending the stairs from an El Al plane before taking his own life.You will recall that three weeks earlier, terrorists took over a Sabena flight from Brussels to Tel Aviv via Vienna, and the passengers on that flight were rescued by the IDF.
The gunmen killed 26 people: 17 Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico, one Canadian citizen, and eight Israelis, and 80 people were injured. Among the Israelis killed was renowned scientist Aharon Katzir, whose brother, Ephraim Katzier became president a few years later. Gunman Yasuyuki Yasuda was also shot dead during the attack - it is unclear whether by his own weapon or that of his partners or security forces. The lone surviving gunman, Kozo Okomato, was injured, arrested by security forces and given a life sentence. He was later freed in the 1985 prisoner swap known as the Gibril Deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
In a document cited by Puerto Rican online newspaper Primera Hora, Pablo Tirado related that his father, who was injured in the attack, “came out of the baggage claim area and walked to the bathroom,” while Camelo Calderon Molina, who was killed in the massacre, “was waiting in the baggage claim area with others standing nearby.” He said the terrorists ran through the airport shooting and throwing grenades until they ran out of ammunition.
Molina’s daughter Ruth Calderon Cordona cried as she gave her testimony, 37 years after losing her father: “He always told us he didn’t want to die until he saw the land where Jesus walked - but he never saw it, because he died in the airport,” Primera Hora quoted her as saying.
The Lod Airport Massacre shocked Israel into making serious changes in its airport security system and there have not been any successful terrorist attacks within the airport grounds since. The meticulous security measures serve as a constant reminder to the Israeli public of past tragedies, while half way across the world, the Puerto Ricans commemorate yearly the victims they lost at the hands of international terrorism.
I have mentioned before that I flew that same Sabena flight to Israel in late June of 1972 to come spend the summer in Israel on a tour. In retrospect, I am amazed that my parents let me go.