I don’t remember ever watching a documentary where at the end of the movie the audience clapped their hands enthusiastically and remained in their seats hopping that it will continue. True, I watched it in a movie theater in South Florida where the audience was probably mostly Jewish and interested in the subject. Yet, I watched many other movies on Jewish topics in the same theater and never experienced similar reaction.
As soon as the United Nations voted for a Jewish state in 1947, the surrounding Arabs countries began preparing for a war to destroy the weak Israeli settlement. The war was set to begin few months later; as soon as the last British soldier leaves the country.
The Israeli leadership faced a difficult problem; losing the war meant another Holocaust. Yet, it did not have a strong enough army to defend itself. Israel needed a difference maker, something that will give Israel an advantage. The Israeli leadership believed that an effective air force was the solution. The problem was that at that time, Israel did not have airplanes or trained pilots.
The US considered the situation beyond salvation and implemented a weapon embargo on the region, denying the Jewish population the ability to acquire desperately needed weapon in the US. The Truman administration warned American Jews that they will lose their citizenship if they joined the war. Selling old American WW2 surplus military equipment to Israel was illegal and meant spending time in jail for people who were caught breaking the law.
The Israeli leadership determined that the only way to get an air force was to smuggle old WW2 planes from the US and recruit veteran WW2 Jewish combat pilots to fly them. Shimon Perez was sent to the US to get planes and recruit WW2 Jewish pilots to help their brothers in Israel.
When the Israeli War of Independence begun in 1948, Israel was on a verge of loosing it all. Outnumbered and ill-equipped, the small Jewish population in Israel faced a coordinated attack from all directions by five Arab armies; Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian, Lebanese, and Iraqi. The Egyptian army was closing in on Tel Aviv, The Jordanians seized control over Jerusalem’s’ old city, and cut off supply the new neighborhoods. The Jordanians surrounding and starved the Jewish population of Jerusalem. The Syrian, Iraqi, and Lebanese armies pressed from the north.
A small group of American Jews was not intimidated by the obstacles; the risk of losing their citizenship, spending time in prison, or losing their life. They came to Israel with their combat planes, where they joined other Jewish volunteer combat pilots from other countries. Together they made a difference. They tipped the war in Israel’s favor and helped saving the country. In the process, they built the foundation for a great air force, which defends Israel successfully ever since.
The movie “Above and Beyond” tells their personal story, their contribution, and their sacrifices. It is a great movie that received excellent reviews. I listed some of these reviews and the movie trailers below.
“… the film offers a fascinating chronicle of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war through the eyes of a daring group of men. Arriving through clandestine channels, they built an air force from scratch — starting out, as one participant puts it, with “four people and four junk airplanes.”’ [LA Times]
“…the film (produced by Steven Spielberg’s sister Nancy) is nutty, dramatic, surprising and above all inspiring. [New York Post]
“A fascinating little-known historical tale is stirringly recounted in Roberta Grossman’s documentary about Jewish-American fighter pilots who volunteered to fight for Israel in its 1948 War of Independence. Seemingly ready-made for big screen Hollywood treatment, Above and Beyond has been a winner on the festival circuit and should have no trouble finding appreciative art-house audiences upon its Jan. 30 theatrical release.” [The Hollywood Reporter]
About the Israeli Air Force
IDF – Israel Defense Force
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