Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

33 Hijack Victims Return to U.s.; Some Say They Were Treated Well by Terrorists

September 29, 1970
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Thirty-three airline hijack victims, freed by their terrorist captors in Jordan on Saturday, are due at Kennedy Airport at 5:40 p.m. today on a TWA charter flight from Nicosia, Cyprus. By early afternoon, relatives and friends of the passengers began to converge on the TWA flight center at the airport to await a reunion with the men, women and children who held as hostages for three weeks by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The returnees–27 men, five women and an infant–are mostly Jewish. They were flown out of Amman yesterday by the International Red Cross and were picked up at Nicosia by TWA early today. All were passengers on TWA flight 741 which was hijacked by Arab commandos Sept. 6 after taking off from Frankfurt, West Germany, on a flight from Tel Aviv to New York. Six other passengers of the all-fated flight 741 were still in Amman today, reportedly in the custody of the Egyptian Embassy there following their release by the guerrillas. There was no information available as to why they did not proceed to Cyprus with the other freed hostages. U.S. officials in Washington cautioned yesterday that the episode was not yet closed. A TWA spokesman in New York told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency this morning that as far as the airline knew the six were no longer hostages and would leave Amman shortly, probably today. He said it was likely that they too would be flown by the Red Cross to Nicosia where they would board a TWA flight for New York.

All of the remaining six detainees are males. The TWA spokesman identified them as Gerald Berkowitz of New York, a college chemistry teacher; John Hollingsworth, a State Department foreign service staff officer; Robert Schwartz and James L. Woods, both scientists employed by the Defense Department and Rabbis Abraham and Joseph Harari-Rafoul of New York City. The latter two are believed to carry both U.S. and Israeli passports. (Sarah Malka, one of the 33 freed hostages, told the JTA in Nicosia last night that she was interrogated for eight hours by the Palestinian guerrillas who accused her of being an Israeli spy. Miss Malka, 20, a school teacher in North Bergen. N.J., said the guerrillas found in her possession a photograph of herself posing beside a burnt-out Syrian tank. She said it was a souvenir of her holiday in Israel but they insisted that she was a member of the Israel Army women’s corps, and, because she speaks Arabic, that she was a spy. Miss Malka said her knowledge of Arabic was helpful because she was able to act as an interpreter for the other hostages. She said that “many times” she feared they would not live through the ordeal. She said her main problem was to obtain food and water.)

(The freed hostages told newsmen at Nicosia airport last night that they were treated very well by their Palestinian captors who shared food and water with them and were very polite. Although most of the hostages were Jewish and some had dual American-Israeli citizenship, there was no discrimination. Kosher food was provided for the observant Jews among the hostages and they were permitted to observe the Sabbath, the returnees said. David Miller, 18, a Jewish youth from Brooklyn told newsmen, “I made friends with them. I became a little more sympathetic toward their cause. They are human beings, like everyone else.” Barbara Mensch, a 16-year-old high-school girl from Scarsdale, N.Y. said, “They really had no intention of harming us. We had some very close calls. It was extremely frightening.” However, another Jewish youth, who did not want to be identified, commented, “I suppose we’re saying just what they wanted us to say–what great guys they are and how they’ve got a real point. As somebody said, we’re worth more alive to them than dead.” Mark Shain, a 20-year old University of Wisconsin student, said. “We felt they knew if anything happened to us it would be the end of them as far as world opinion is concerned.” He said he thought the guerrillas finally released the hostages because “We were a liability” to them.)

Recommended from JTA