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Netanyahu’s visit to Entebbe: Opportunity for birthright tourism

Written by editor

Israeli Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu touched down at Entebbe International Airport on July 4, 2016, to mark 40 years since the daring rescue mission on Entebbe to rescue Israeli hostages who

Israeli Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu touched down at Entebbe International Airport on July 4, 2016, to mark 40 years since the daring rescue mission on Entebbe to rescue Israeli hostages who had been hijacked out of Athens in a Paris-bound Airbus originating from Tel Aviv.

Photo courtesy of Presidential Press Unit, Uganda

This visit on his 5-day tour of East Africa, including Uganda and Kenya, apart from attending an anti-terrorism summit, was personal for the Prime Minister, who had in a previous visit laid the memorial plaque in memory of the dead, for it was his brother Jonathan Nenanyahu, commander of the Israelis, who was the only Israeli soldier killed during the mission where other hostages and 45 Ugandan soldiers lost their lives.

It was also significant for the new nation of Israel since it was the first time since the World War II holocaust that they were demonstrating that they could protect their citizens abroad. The Israeli PM called the Entebbe mission a watershed moment for his people. In his words, “During the Holocaust, Jews were murdered by the millions. The State of Israel has changed that. It was perhaps in Entebbe where this transformation was seen by the world. We were powerless no more.”

Photo courtesy of Presidential Press Unit, Uganda

That the very C130 Hercules Aircraft that transported the soldiers on that day was back on with a sortie of former hostages, soldiers, and relatives of those involved in the mission, was symbolic, albeit this time in the name of peace.

Uganda’s President, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, alluded to the historical ties between the two states adding that this event 40 years ago should strengthen their trade ties in the fields of cyber-technology, agriculture, and tourism. Both countries are magnets for religious tourism with the Uganda Martyrs attracting several pilgrims to Namugongo Martyrs Shrine annually on the outskirts of Kampala, the capital, and Israel being the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Without falling into the trappings of ideological sentiment which never seems to end, the opportunities in the tourism fold should not stop at diplomatic pleasantries.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Uganda has for the last decade or so marketed the scene of the Entebbe raid as a tourist site, but this only seems to stop at lip service. I discovered through an American Jew, who is a regular visitor to Uganda, whose first name I recall as Rena, of a not-for-profit organization called “Taglit” – translated as “birthright” – that sponsors free 10-day heritage trips for young adults of Jewish heritage aged 18 to 26 to experience their history and culture. Since the program began in 1999, the organization has sponsored 500,000 youth from 65 countries.

Since the Entebbe raid is a significant chapter in the history of the Nation of Israel, this presents an opportunity for Entebbe to position itself on the national heritage trail of Israel, on the “Taglit” program through accredited travel agencies that organize these tours.

Hollywood did their bit in their dramatization of the event through blockbusters like “Operation Thunderbolt” and “Ninety Minutes at Entebbe.”

The Uganda Tourism Board is delving into film tourism, and the terminal building where it played out still exists, including eye witnesses such as veterans of the defunct Uganda Army and Idi Amin’s own kin, such as Lumumba, who has the story from a different perspective.

Netanyahu laid the foundation, and the gauntlet now falls on Uganda’s Civil Aviation Authority, Uganda Tourism Board, and ultimately the Government of Uganda Shalom.