On March 4, the Orthodox Forum of Highland Park/Edison presented David Raab at Congregation Etz Ahaim. Raab’s fascinating story had the approximately 100 people in attendance at the edge of their seats for over two hours.
On September 6, 1970, at age 17, en route to the U.S. after a summer in Israel, Raab was hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to Jordan and held hostage for three weeks.
Alan Silver of the Orthodox Forum opened the event and introduced the speaker. Raab began his presentation with introductions of his family members who were present and acknowledged that his speaking was initiated by Orthodox Forum member Joel Paul, who was one of the first people to greet him at Yeshiva University after his return following the hijacking.
On Sunday of Labor Day Weekend in 1970, the plane carrying the five Raab siblings and their mother (the father had preceded them back to the U.S.) on the third leg of a trip from Israel was hijacked and landed in the Jordanian desert. The first of many miracles that occurred was that a second hijacked jet forced to land in the same area avoided colliding with their jet by a mere 25 feet. Those on the plane were required to fill out forms listing their nationalities and religions and submit their passports. As Jordan had just lost a war to Israel a few years before, the Jews on board were rightly concerned. The hijackers were looking for adult male Israelis to use as bargaining chips in negotiations. Another miracle was that the only adult Israeli males had dual citizenship, which invalidated them for the hijackers’ ploy.
The captives stayed in the airplane with no power, limited food and inadequate restroom facilities, but initially were kept together. Over the course of the week, non-Jewish women and children without Israeli ties were released. Time passed slowly for the remaining passengers, whose main concern was that the rest of the world did not know where they were. They passed the time saying Tehillim, smoking cigarettes and singing popular songs with altered lyrics, such as “I’m living on a jet plane,” and “Up, Up, and Away in a TWA plane.”
Raab says he was woken one night by a flashlight shining on him. The hijackers wanted to “talk to him.” He was removed from the plane and placed in a van with nine other men and driven to Amman where he was placed in very primitive, cramped quarters. One of the men with him was worried about the wife and toddler who were still on the plane. He suspected that his wife was pregnant, and he did not know if he was “leaving behind one orphan or two.”
After Raab was taken to Amman, the remaining women and children in the desert were released. It was another two weeks before the remaining captives were released.
Raab was amazed that people were still interested in the story of the hijacking that took place nearly 50 years ago. In 2007, he published the book “Terror in Black September” to tell the story and have a “book of record of the events of the month,” with facts and details to avoid fading memories and disinformation. Raab traveled to many countries as he researched official documents and news reports and spoke with people involved.
The pivotal events of September 6, 1970, that saw four airplanes hijacked in the same day with 800 people involved, riveted the world’s attention for three weeks until the final hostages were released. The parallel to the events of September 11, 2001, when four airplanes were also hijacked, is remarkable as terrorism based in the Middle East is still a global concern. Raab noted that the terror groups formed in Jordan in the 1950s and the PLO founding in 1964 pre-date the 1967 war and the establishment of Jewish settlements, which are the common reasons used by some to “justify” Palestinian terror.
Raab felt it critical that the history of the time be noted so attendees could understand the climate that generated the events of “Black September”: the anarchy in Jordan, the presence of Syrian and Iraqi troops and the radicalization of the Palestinians were all vital parts of this time. The PFLP coordinated the events on the hijacked planes and, as was corroborated by the granddaughter of a passenger in another hijacked plane, “the same words were used after the planes’ takeover, “We are taking you to a friendly country.”
In the 1990s, Raab felt that the family had to go back and see the area where they had been held in Jordan. One of the photos in the book shows the group as they looked 25 years later.
The Orthodox Jewish Forum of Highland Park/Edison is a community-wide educational endeavor to discuss contemporary issues and ideas in the ideology of Torah Umada. Events are open to the community with sessions held at various communal institutions and synagogues.
David Raab is currently an executive vice president with the Touro University System, and formerly held positions with AIPAC, NORPAC and numerous Jewish Federations.
By Deborah Melman