Hijacked to Algiers — Part 4

After a short while, two employees of “Air Algerie” appeared, accompanied by the Sergeant and an Officer. They were a steward and a stewardess with the Algirian airline. After the usual greetings, my crewmembers began asking them for different items, and soon the requests began to pile up. Aside from one request, by the purser Jacques Merav, who was instructed by me to ask for soap, towels, and underwear, the requests came entirely from the women, and Judy Abend, in particular. It began with slips. Then bras. Then a long list of hygienic items and cosmetics: day creams and hand creams and eye-shadow and lipstick and nail polish and shampoo and hair softener and a hair-dryer and so on and so forth. The Algerian steward and stewardess stood, frozen stiff, eyes wide in disbelief as Judy issued this seemingly unending stream of increasingly ridiculous requests. I was standing on the side, my face turning purple with shame and anger. I could not believe what I was hearing and seeing. I could not understand how Judy Abend, an ex hospital nurse in her late forties, could be so totally detached from reality. How could she speak as if we were in some friendly country, temporarily inconvenienced by some technical failure to our airplane? I finally decided to put an end to this shameful conduct for fear that we would otherwise not even get soap and towels. I turned to Judy and the two other girls, and asked them in a quiet, soft voice to stop. Then, leading the Algerian steward and stewardess towards the door, I said to them quietly in French, “It will suffice if you bring us soap, towels and underwear. Please forget all the rest.” Both smiled with relief, and the two uniformed fellows, who were also flabbergasted by the cosmetics deluge, smiled a cynical smile. All four left. We did not meet any steward or stewardess of the Algerian airline again. Nor did we receive any supplies that evening.

Jacques Merav had a carton of “Yardley” toilet-soaps in his bag, and he distributed them among us. I went and had a shower. The cold shower freshened me up. I dried myself with my undervest and hung it to dry.The time was 10 PM and all of us were very tired. We chose beds. The three girls took beds on the inner side of the dividing-wall and the men took beds on the outer side, towards the door. I took a lower bed and Jacques Merav took the bed above mine. Before we fell asleep we exchanged some thoughts and made some decisions:

Due to everything that had occurred and everything which I had seen and heard since we were hijacked, I concluded that it would be best if I acted, to the extent possible, as if we were prisoners of war. After all, Algeria and Israel were enemies, so I would simply act according to military protocol. At the same time, I would demand from the crew perfect flight-discipline whilst caring for the passengers as best as I could under the circumstances. Following that, I decided that I would address and talk to officers only. In order to keep the necessary contact with the Sergeant and anybody else who was not an officer, I appointed Jacques Merav, whom I knew to be a most intelligent and responsible fellow, to act as my adjutant. I told him that all communication between Sergeant Lashmi and me would be done via him, and I requested that he find an opportunity to explain to the Sergeant politely that this will be our procedure in the future. I then told all the crew members, including the stewardesses, that I strictly forbade any of them to approach any Algerian with any requests whatsoever; if they needed anything, they were to direct their requests to me. Yona Lichtman proposed that we ask the Algirians for brooms, floor-mops, and several necessary cleaning and disinfecting materials and that we clean the rooms in which we were staying–as well as the corridor, the washroom, and toilets–and that we continue doing so as long as we remained there. This was an excellent proposal which came from a man, who like Jacques Merav, would prove very helpful to me in this crisis. I asked him to give Merav a list of all these necessities so that Merav could hand it to Lashmi, and then I ordered the crew to arrange a 3-person cleaning detail that would change daily. I also ordered the crew to arrange for two members, again rotating daily, whose duty it would be to receive the food which the Algerians would bring us, and to serve it on the long and narrow table which was built into and along the whole inner wall, then, at the end of the meal, to collect everything from the table and return it to the armed soldiers which were standing guard by the outer entrance to the corridor. Everybody agreed when I suggested that I would not be included in any of these daily details but would supervise that all was running according to my instructions. The next day, I went to see my passengers and suggested to them that they too form a daily detail of food-servers, but that they should leave the cleaning to us–our cleaning-detail would clean their room as well.

That night we all slept a deep sleep. When morning came, we received the usual lukewarm coffee. This time, Yona procured from his bag an electrical instrument which was actually an electrical spoon that could heat or even boil liquids. We were all glad to find out that this instrument worked when we plugged it in the electrical socket. The Sergeant appeared and I turned to Jacques Merav and said in French: “Monsieur Jacques, please tend to the Sergeant.” I asked that he give him our list of cleaning materials and repeat my request for soap, towels, toilet-paper and underwear. The Sergeant was not surprised at all when Jacques explained to him most politely the new procedures for communication which I insisted on and promised to relay our requests to the “Commandant” (in French Commandant is both commanding-officer and Major) and do whatever necessary to deliver to us everything which we asked for as soon as possible. Before leaving, he saluted me, and I thought to myself, “it seems that my idea works.” The title “Monsieur” stuck to Jacques Merav: All of us–crew, passengers, and Algerians–continued to address him as “Monsieur Jacques”. I was very happy about it, for it helped us maintain the correct “proportions” and “distance” among ourselves and between us and the Algerians. It also gave Jacques, who, throughout our ordeal, held most important role, the respect which he deserved.

At about 9 AM, a small table and a few chairs were brought to our room, and Sergeant Lashmi arrived with three Algerian civilians. They laid down some forms on the table and called us, one by one, for an investigation. It was explained to us that these were men from the “Police des Etrangers” which exists in Algeria as well as in France. The investigation was thorough and comprehensive. It was conducted in our room with all of us present, without any secrecy, and in a very relaxed manner. So that we should not get mixed up and provide unnecessary information in response to certain “delicate” questions, I told these three gentlemen at the start of the investigation that, since only I and Jacques Merav speak French, I propose that we act as interpreters for the rest of the crewmembers. They agreed. I was the first to be questioned. The only questions which were asked about military details were general questions about our military service: Rank, duty, service. That was all.

After my interview, Maoz Poraz and Avner Slapak were questioned. The investigators were amused when they found out that all three of us held the military rank of Captain and asked us if this was the rank of all pilots in the Israel Air Force. We were also asked about our rank and duty within “El-Al”. Next, Yona Lichtman, the purser, and two stewards were questioned, then finally the three stewardesses. Lastly, we were asked to show our handbags which were fully and meticulously searched. By early afternoon this investigation was over.

Several hours later, at about 6 PM, two Algerian civilians arrived and asked me to join them. We went into one of the empty rooms on the same floor. One of them sat near the long table which was affixed to the inner wall just as in our room. The other stood behind him, facing me. I was asked to sit down on a chair close to him. The fellow who was standing had a pleasant and relaxed face. The other who sat to write down our conversation looked cross and had a stupid expression. The one that was standing started asking me questions in a calm, orderly fashion. I asked for a cigarette and having lighted it started replying whilst doing my best to mimic his demeanor, staying as calm and polite as him. His questions were about my grandparents on my father’s side and my mother’s side and then about my parents, my birth, my childhood. We covered my entire life’s history, almost year by year: kindergarten, school, questions about my brother and everybody else in my family–uncles, aunts cousins etc., etc. I saw no reason to hide anything from him and gave him a complete and thorough autobiography. We then reached my professional side. Here, too, I had nothing to hide. After all, I was a useless object as far as military intelligence was concerned. These investigators actually had already all the historical details which I told them–the Aero Club of Palestine, the gliding at Kfar-Yeladim, the “Aviron” company, the Hagana Air Service, even the flying-course at Bakersfield were no news to them. My investigator was so well informed with the subject in hand that when he asked me about my brother’s occupation and was told that my brother works as chief-engineer at “Yafora” he exclaimed: “Ah, Yafora, that is the enterprise which produces fruit-juices and fruit concentrates! I saw their advertisements in your buses in Tel-Aviv!” (This man was an Algerian and not a Palestinian!) I tried not to look surprised at these words and confirmed what he saw about “Yafora” in our Tel-Aviv buses.

The questioning continued in great detail. I was asked many questions about my marriage, my wife, my daughters. I had no difficulty answering the many questions about my military service. I belonged to the “1948 Generation” (those who fought during the Israeli War of Independence). So I told them of my flying with No. 1 Squadron on its old and light single and twin-engined airplanes. Of course, I omitted some more sensitive details. I said nothing of my flying with Flight 35, where I flew first on the Norseman during the airlift to Sdom and was then sent to fly the shuttle between Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia during Operation ” Velveta 1″, or that when I returned to Israel, I had switched to flying Harvards during 30 sorties of dive-bombing and low-level attacks during Operation “Ayin”. Instead, I went on to tell them about my long service in 103 Squadron where I flew Dakotas within Israel and to foreign destinations such as Nicosia and Istanbul; Athens and Rome; Athens, Rome, Paris and Amsterdam. And, finally, I recounted my service as a flight instructor for pilots and navigators. I chose to omit that by this time I was already twice decorated for distinguished service (I knew that the less important you are the smaller the ransom asked for your release).

Next came questions about my work with “El-Al”. Why and how was I accepted as a trainee-pilot, what airplanes did I fly, and how did I advance to Second Officer and First Officer and Captain, then Training Captain and Manager of Flight Safety, a function which I introduced and developed as early as late 1958. An important part of this investigation dealt with my private life and my social life: Where did I live, the size of my house, what furniture and appliances did we have, how many cars do we have and what are they. Who are our friends? I answered this question by telling them of all our friends and acquaintances which were doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, publishers and omitted all those who were in the military. The investigator said that it is very strange that we do not have any friends who are pilots and commanding-officers in our Air Force. I was quite sure that he knew that I was giving him incomplete information. At the end of this investigation, which lasted two and a half hours and was conducted entirely in French, my investigator said, “we know about you much more than you can guess” and whilst saying so he took out from a briefcase which lay on the table an enlarged photo which was published by the Israel Air Force Magazine. The photo showed a party of Air Force pilots celebrating after the War of 6 Days (1967). It was a group of Mirage Fighter-Pilots and one of them was Maoz Poraz.The man pointed at Maoz and said, “Poraz is a fighter pilot on Mirage fighters and not a transport-pilot on Dakotas as you told us!” I kept silent. When the investigation ended, I was allowed to return to our room.

When I returned to our room, I found the crew waiting for me with great anxiety. The stewardesses were particularly anxious. I was tired. The investigation had required my full concentration. I knew that although this investigation was seemingly peaceful and polite, I had to be very careful and remember everything I said and everything I omitted. When evening came, we received the same metal containers with the same Air Algerie dinner. It was identical to what we received for lunch yesterday and today, and was again lukewarm. Before we went to bed I called one of the two stewards whose name was Ran Shligersky and I told him that I wanted him to spend as long as he could by the windows in the corridor and to try and see what aircraft were passing overhead every time that we heard the noise of aero-engines passing overhead. I asked him to try and identify the aircraft, whether it was military or civilian or what airline it was and to try to remember the day and hour so as to find out if there were certain flights which operate regularly on certain days and hours. At this time I had no idea as yet as to what purpose or if ever I will need this information, but it seemed to me to be a good idea to be acquainted with the air traffic at this airport. Shligersky was a tall, blond fellow who from that point on spent most of his time at the corridor’s windows, and was quite successful in conducting complete and accurate observations.

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One thought on “Hijacked to Algiers — Part 4

  1. היי אינס ודדי,

    קראתי ומאוד נהניתי. יש לך זיכרון פנומנאלי. ממש מדהים!

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