Terror in the Jordanian Desert–September 1970

In September of 1970, four planes were hijacked by Palestinian militants and flown to the Jordanian desert. Tonight on PBS, American Experience replayed the drama of hundreds of hostages left out in planes in the desert, and described how the event nearly toppled the reign of King Hussein, destablizing the country and almost caused his government to topple.

Scenes of the Intercontinental Hotel in Amman being shot and bombed by combatants while hostages cowered in the stairwells were mixed with shots of Nixon and Kissinger meeting to try to plot their next move. Nixon wanted to bomb the Palestinians, but his defense secretary Mel Laird pretended that the weather was bad, (it wasn’t) so negotiations, not bombs continued.

It was a scene that gripped the world, seven long days, and in the end, the Palestinians blew up four planes, after releasing hundreds of hostages but taking 60 Jewish people to the back alleys of Amman to try to trade them for jailed comrades. In the end, all of the terrorists got away, their comrades were released, and none of the poor passengers were killed. And it wouldn’t be the last time we’d hear more than we wanted to hear about hijackings in September.