Across from the capitol building in San Juan there are two memorials: a memorial to the millions murdered by Nazis in the Holocaust, and a memorial to seventeen Puerto Ricans murdered by terrorists in a 1972 attack in what is now Ben Gurion Airport but was then called the Lod Airport.
“The Lod Airport massacre revealed the power of terrorist ideology to incite murder. A new form of violence, targeting civilian non-combatants with the intent to create a mood of fear and intimidation, became a means for terrorists to popularize extremist political and social agendas,” a plaque at the memorial explains.
“On May 30, 1972, three terrorists supported by the General Command of the Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine, perpetuated a massacre at the Lod airport in Israel, firing indiscriminately against passengers waiting for their luggage. Among them was a group of Puerto Ricans eagerly awaiting pilgrimage in the Holy Land. This cowardly terrorist attack left seventy-eight wounded people, twenty six killed; seventeen were Puerto Ricans. The memory of these blessed souls remain alive in the hearts of the survivors and in the collective memory of both nations, Puerto Rico and Israel.”
New York artists Michael Berkowicz and Bonnie Srolovitz created a sculpture in steel showing a family cut away from a wall, with their shadows formed in black granite below the wall. The artwork is named “In the Shadow of Their Absence.”
At the dedication of the memorial, then-Governor Luis Fortuño, noted that “Puerto Rico has the honor of having one of the largest and most important Jewish communities in the Caribbean.”
The Lod Airport massacre
Three Japanese terrorists recruited and trained by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv from Europe carrying violin cases, according to the BBC. In the airport, they removed weapons from their instrument cases and began shooting. Two died in the melee, and the third shooter, Kozo Okamoto, went to trial.
“I am an Arab resistance fighter,” he said. “I did it for the Palestinian cause.”
After spending 13 years in prison, Okamoto was freed in a 1985 prisoner exchange and gained political asylum in Lebanon.
A 2022 event in Beirut commemorated the 50th anniversary of the attack. According to the Associated Press, the event was “organized by a radical Palestinian faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and attended by a few dozen people and officials from Lebanese and Palestinian factions including Lebanon’s Hezbollah.” The participants gathered around a memorial for four pro-Palestinian Japanese nationals.
The 1972 attack on the airport is viewed as a joint operation between the PFLP and the Japanese Red Army.
Looking back on the incident, Tomoo Ishida, who served as Okamoto’s interpreter during the interrogations, remembered his anger while listening to Okamoto speak. “I felt a strong resentment at their completely distorted sense of justice,” said Ishida in a 2022 interview.
Ishida, who was studying Israeli history at the time and had gone to the airport to pick up a friend, also served as Okamoto’s interpreter at his trial. “It is my mission to link with [Palestinian and other] revolutionary forces and change the world,” he recalled Okamoto saying to justify his actions. Ishida was not convinced. “He did not properly understand the history of the Jewish people and the situation of Israel,” Ishida said.
As he explained in an interview with The Japan News fifty years after the incident, Ishida remains troubled by the violent incident and what it represents.
“Behavior that brandishes a unilateral sense of justice is still going on around the world,” he said. “We must never forget what happened, and must learn from the mistakes made by our fellow Japanese.”
The names of the U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico who lost their lives:
- Reverend Angel Berganzo
- Carmelo Calderón Molina
- Carmela Cintrón
- Carmen E. Crespo
- Vírgen Flores
- Esther González
- Blanca González de Pérez
- Carmen Guzmán
- Eugenia López
- Enrique Martínez Rivera
- Vasthy Zila Morales de Vega
- José M. Otero Adorno
- Antonio Pacheco
- Juan Padilla
- Antonio Rodríguez Morales
- Consorcia Rodríguez
- José A. Rodríguez