Menu JTA Search

Puerto Rican, Jewish Leaders Recall Israeli Airport Massacre

Puerto Rican and Jewish community leaders gathered here last week to commemorate the 25th anniversary of a terrorist attack in Israel that affected both communities.

The ties created by their shared tragedy was evidenced in the reading of the names during the July 8 ceremony: Zvi Guttman followed Esther Gonzalez; Juan Padilla came before Henya Ratner.

They were four of the 25 people killed in the May 30, 1972 attack at Israel’s Lod Airport, now called Ben-Gurion Airport.

Three members of the Japanese Red Army, acting on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, opened fire in the baggage claim area, killing 10 Israelis and 15 Puerto Rican tourists.

Only one of the three terrorists survived the attack. Kozo Okamoto was sentenced to life imprisonment in Israel, but was released in 1985 in a Palestinian-Israeli prisoner exchange.

The attack was one of several terrorist attacks against Israel in 1972, including the Munich Olympics massacre of 11 Israeli athletes.

Instead of focusing on the airport attack, however, the ceremony, held at the UJA-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, focused on the positive.

“Today we remember this tragedy by promoting peace and tolerance,” said Soraya Rodriguez-Chasty, the New York regional director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.

To accomplish this, the AJ Contracting Company of New York established the Para Shalom Scholarship for Peace to send four students annually to tour Israel and Puerto Rico for a cross-cultural experience.

The first recipients will spend 10 days in Israel in August, and will travel to Puerto Rico in December.

Four New York students were chosen to receive the scholarship — two from each community.

“We have a lot in common,” said one of the recipients, Elissa Kleinhaus, a student at Barnard College. She said the trips are a way to “tie the two cultures together.”

Charles Uribe, chief executive officer of AJ Contracting, said the trip is a good way for students to learn to communicate with other groups of people.

“The more people learn, the more you become aware that there’s a lot out there,” he said.

Ambassador Colette Avital, Israel’s consul general in New York, said the scholarship will form “a closer bond between our two peoples.”

The 1972 attack affected both communities not only in the deaths of the innocent, but in what the terrorists were trying to accomplish.

They attempted to “demoralize the Israeli population,” Avital said, and to “deter tourists from visiting Israel.”

Avital described the Puerto Rican victims as people “imbued with the spirit of religion” who were traveling to Israel to visit places holy to Christianity.

The commemoration was especially meaningful in New York, where people from the two communities interact on a daily basis.

“When you’re born and raised in New York City, you’re a little bit about everything,” Uribe said.

NEXT STORY