The striking cover of this book- a crippled Concorde in a desert location, surrounded by men with assault rifles*- has been tempting me in charity shops for years. I finally gave in when I found a copy on the 20p table.
Written in the late seventies and set in the early eighties, the story starts with peace between Israel and its neighbours a strong possibility. El Al’s two Concordes are to fly the country’s delegates to New York for the final talks. Security is tight, on the ground and in the air. However, one terrorist has outsmarted Israeli security, by planting bombs on the planes before they even left the factory.
Intercepted by the man holding the detonators, one Concorde is blown up, the other led on a radar dodging low level flight to the terrorist base. Only as they’re about to land does the fight back begin. The pilot takes the plane off the landing strip and gets it to higher ground.
The plane is now on the original site of Babylon. Referencing biblical events, the siege at Masada and more recent horrors, the passengers and crew must fight off a battalion of Palestinians, all orphans trained from childhood to hate them.
With a river on one side, and surrounded by enemies on all the others, it’s obvious that the passengers’ situation is a metaphor for that of their country. The cast of characters, no doubt, represent the author’s views on the strengths and weaknesses of Israel, their response the one he believes their country should adopt. In his opinion, democracy is a luxury they can’t afford, and only inventive, all-or-nothing violence can help them. The peaceniks amongst the passengers are humiliated or forced to see the error of their views, and the bullying security official who steamrollers all opposition is the tragic hero.
The Palestinians, of course, don’t get a sympathetic portrayal. Their ranks are full of homosexuals, obviously considered a weakness by the author, and they’re given to horrific torture of prisoners. (When the Israelis coerce a captured terrorist, they barely have to touch him, and then politely send him back to his comrades. Who promptly kill him.)
The story races along, non-stop, so you don’t notice all the subtext until after you’ve finished it. It’s a thick book, but I read most of it in one go, wrapping up around three in the morning.
*Which I can’t find an image of online.