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The Terrorist Attack on Lod Airport: 40 Years After
King Hussein Expresses Sympathy, the Government Considers the Death Penalty
A policeman holding a submachine gun used during the attack on Lod Airport, 31 May 1972
Photograph: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office


A. The Lod Massacre
On the night of 30 May 1972, at around 10:30 p.m., three Japanese citizens stood with a group of passengers on an Air France flight which had just arrived at Lod Airport (now Ben-Gurion Airport) in Israel and was waiting for their luggage. No one guessed that they were members of the international terror group known as the Japanese Red Army and they had come to Israel on a mission for a Palestinian terror organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. When the three received their suitcases they suddenly took out submachine guns and hand grenades and began to shoot and throw grenades in all directions. When the firing stopped it was found that 24 people had been killed and over 70 wounded. Eight of the dead were Israelis and the rest foreign tourists. Two of the terrorists were killed, and the third, Kozo Okamoto, was wounded and captured. An internationally renowned Israeli scientist, Aharon Katzir, brother of future president Ephraim Katzir, was killed in the attack.
40 years later, the Israel State Archives is publishing three documents dealing with the Lod Massacre for the first time: a telegram of sympathy sent by King Hussein of Jordan to Prime Minister Golda Meir, Golda Meir's reply to Hussein and a debate by the government on whether to demand the death penalty for the captured terrorist.

B. International Reaction to the Massacre and Hussein's Telegram
The massacre at the airport caused international shock and horror. The murder of many innocent passengers, among them a group of pilgrims from Puerto Rico on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Holy Land, aroused general  condemnation. Telegrams of condolence and regret were sent to Israel by many heads of state, among them the Japanese prime minister, who expressed his deep apologies for the acts of his countrymen. But it seems that emotions in the Prime Minister's office were most stirred by the telegram of sympathy which arrived a day after the massacre from King Hussein of Jordan. At that time Hussein and Prime Minister Meir were holding a series of meetings and diplomatic contacts in an attempt to reach a peace settlement between Jordan and Israel. In the telegram (Document No. 1) Hussein (codenamed March) strongly condemned the "atrocious crime" committed at Lod and sent Golda (codenamed "April") his condolences.  Jordan would do its utmost to combat the "forces of evil and destruction" responsible. In her reply Golda Meir thanked him warmly for the telegram (Document No. 2).

C. The Government Debates a Possible Death Penalty for Okamoto
David Elazar, the IDF Chief of Staff, set up a special military court to try Okamoto, which was authorized to impose a death sentence. The trial opened on 10 July 1972 and the verdict was expected on 17 July. The day before the government discussed whether to change a previous decision of October 1967 that the death penalty would not be demanded in Israeli courts and military tribunals, and to instruct the prosecutor to demand a death sentence for Okamoto.
The debate touched on questions of principle about the death penalty and its significance for Israel's moral character and values. Minister of Transport Shimon Peres, supported a death sentence for the Japanese terrorist, as his acts "really came close to a case of genocide carried out by one person". Sparing his life although he had not expressed contrition would encourage similar acts. All the other speakers opposed changing the decision for practical reasons and in principle. The minister of religious affairs, from the National Religious Party, Zerah Warhaftig, said: "I don't think we should change our image as a liberal country". Foreign Minister, Abba Eban said "I see the renunciation of the death penalty as one of the distinguishing marks of social and cultural progress." Golda Meir, who did not express an opinion, summed up and said that the government had decided not to change the previous decision(Document No. 3 in Hebrew). The following day Okamoto was sentenced to three life sentences and a further ten years. The judges explained that in view of his crimes, he deserved the maximum penalty (death) but they had decided not to impose it in view of the prosecutor's request. Okamoto served only 13 years and was released on 21 May 1985 in the prisoner exchange with the Ahmed Jibril terrorist organization.


A Special Joint Publication by the Israel State Archives and the Center for Educational Technology (CET)