(This story has been refiled to make clear in para 4 that all Jewish passengers, not just Israeli citizens, were separated out by the hijackers.)
By Michelle Martin and Hanna Rantala
BERLIN (Reuters) - A film depicting the 1976 hijacking of an airliner to Entebbe, Uganda and the spectacular rescue of passengers by Israeli commandos casts light on the enduring obstacles to negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, its director said.
“7 Days in Entebbe”, which premiered on Monday at the Berlin film festival, focuses on the hostages and their hijackers - two militants from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two from an allied West German ultra-leftist group.
The flight was en route from Tel Aviv to Paris on June 27, 1976 when, after a stopover in Athens where four hijackers slipped on board, it was commandeered and diverted to Entebbe. The four hijackers were joined by several others there.
Separating out Jewish passengers, both Israeli citizens and non-Israelis, after removing all passengers and crew from the plane, the hijackers freed 148 non-Jews over the course of several days and kept about 100 Jewish passengers and crew members, threatening to kill them if their demands were not met.
In the film, as terrified hostages await their fate in a grimy, disused airport terminal building, Israeli politicians debate whether to negotiate with the hijackers - who want dozens of imprisoned Palestinian guerrillas and other militants freed - but ultimately decide on the rescue mission.
After a 2,500-mile (4,000-km) undercover flight to Uganda, elite Israeli military commandos stormed the terminal building under cover of darkness on July 4, saving all but four of the hostages, who were killed, and killing all the hijackers.
The only death among the commandos was their commander Yonatan Netanyahu, eldest brother of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who became a national hero.
Director Jose Padilha said it was difficult for Israeli or Palestinian politicians to negotiate because those who do so lose political clout among their compatriots - something he wanted to demonstrate in his movie.
“In this recurrent conflict, it’s very easy for politicians to present themselves as: ‘I’m going to defend you against the enemy’, and, once you frame the relationship as a relationship like that - two enemies - it becomes hard to negotiate,” he said at a post-screening news conference. “That’s still true today.”
Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have been frozen for years over Israeli settlements in occupied territory that Palestinians seek for a state, borders, refugees and the disputed status of Jerusalem.
Rosamund Pike, who plays one of the militants from the West German Revolutionary Cells, said all the characters had a cause and the film presents the beliefs of the hijackers and Israeli government alike but leaves it up to viewers to make a judgment.
“I think we all agree that any act of extremism is deplorable. But it is interesting to not make them one-dimensional villains but be able to recognize that emotion, human emotion, plays a part, whether you’re the hero or villain, right?” she told Reuters.
Her co-star Daniel Bruehl, who plays the other West German hijacker, said the film tried to show there were multiple versions of history rather than just one.
“(It’s) a film that is not easy, a film in which you know all these different voices and mindsets are heard and seen in order to understand also where we are coming from and what the situation is right now,” he said.
Jacques Lemoine, an engineer who survived the hijacking, said he liked the film and found it was an accurate depiction.
“7 Days in Entebbe”, is one of around 400 films being screened at this year’s Berlinale but is not competing for the Golden and Silver Bears to be awarded on Saturday. The festival in the German capital runs until Feb. 25.
Writing by Michelle Martin; editing by Mark Heinrich