Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story
Film Review by Kam Williams
Bittersweet Biopic Recounts Life of Israeli Commando Who Died Leading Daring Rescue
On June 27, 1976, Air France Flight #139 from Tel Aviv to Athens was commandeered by terrorists en route and allowed to land in Libya to refuel before being diverted to Entebbe, Uganda. There, the hijackers were not only joined by waiting comrades, but supported by the army operating on orders from the country’s pro-Palestinian President, Idi Amin.
After freeing all the non-Jews, the hijackers demanded the release of 53 imprisoned comrades as ransom for the 106 remaining hostages. However, that solution was never considered an option, because of Israel’s longstanding policy of not negotiating with terrorists.
Instead, while stalling for time by feigning cooperation, Israel secretly planned a daring rescue. Because the Entebbe airport had been built by an Israeli construction company, its architects were enlisted to help build an exact replica of the terminal where the prisoners were being held.
Meanwhile, the former hostages gave Mossad agents a precise description of the location of their former captors. Success of the raid would rely heavily on the element of surprise, because the kidnapped passengers were surrounded by heavily-armed abductors with their fingers on the trigger.
Operation Thunderbolt, which was executed on July 4, 1976, assembled a team of 200 of Israel’s best Special Forces commandos to be led by Yoni Netanyahu (1946-1976), the older brother of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The brave Lieutenant Colonel would be the only member of the mission to perish in the assault, which also claimed the lives of all the hijackers, 45 Ugandan soldiers and 3 passengers caught in the crossfire.
Co-directed by Jonathan Gruber and Ari Daniel Pinchot, Follow Me is a bittersweet biopic about Yoni which reconstructs the events of the remarkable rescue via a combination of actual walkie-talkie transmissions and eyewitness accounts of some participants. More importantly, half the documentary is devoted to heartfelt remembrances of Yoni by his family, friends and colleagues.
Much of the film’s moving narration is even in the subject’s own words, since he was the introspective type given to sharing his feelings in poetry, diaries and love letters. After all, the Israeli patriot had studied philosophy at Harvard between serving his country in the ’67 and Yom Kippur Wars.
Although a proud career soldier, Yoni concedes that the experience of hand-to-hand combat “adds a whole dimension of sadness to a man’s being.” A poignant portrait revealing the sensitive soul of a revered military hero.
Excellent (4 stars)
In English and Hebrew with subtitles
Running time: 87 Minutes
Distributor: International Film Circuit