El Al is known for being one of the safest airlines in the world. As a result of the terrorism Israel faces, Israel’s national carrier has no choice but to be extremely vigilant when it comes to security. Yet one day in El Al history stands out, the first and last time an El Al flight has been hijacked, 49 years ago this week.
El Al flight 426 had just taken off from Rome on route to Tel Aviv when 3 terrorists from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine burst into the cockpit, clubbed the co-pilot with the butt of his pistol, and ordered the plane to fly to Algiers, the Algerian capital.
Once the plane had landed in Algeria, the Algerian authorities took control of the operation. They separated all Israelis from the rest of the passengers, allowing non-Israelis to go free. The action of separating Jews from non-Jews brought back terrible memories for the Jewish people and their state, just over 20 years after the end of the Holocaust.
The Algerians demanded of Israel the release of all Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were convicted terrorists, in exchange for the Israeli passengers and crew. At the same time, a variety of international efforts by the UN, Italy and the International Federation of Airline Pilots’ Associations were underway to secure the release of the Israelis.
International pressure on Algeria, including through boycotts and other measures, led to the Algerians decreasing the significance of their demands. By this point, the Israelis had been held hostage for 5 weeks. After negotiations between the Israeli and Algerian governments, an agreement was reached where Israel would release 16 Palestinian prisoners in return for the Israeli passengers and crew. Lasting 40 days, it was the longest hijacking of a commercial plane, and that record still stands today.
Contributed by Daniel Kosky, CAMERA Intern.