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Above and Beyond

produced by Nancy Spielberg, Playmount Productions, 2014

American fliers have a tradition of getting involved in other people’s wars, from mercenaries in Mexico’s revolution and the Lafayette Escadrille of World War I, to volunteers in the Spanish Civil War and Sino-Japanese wars, to the RAF Eagle squadrons and the Flying Tigers during World War II. Above and Beyond, currently being shown in selected theaters and at film festivals, chronicles the lesser-known saga of a handful of veterans who in 1948 smuggled aircraft and lent their wartime experience to a new nation whose existence was in jeopardy from its very inception: Israel.

Under an arms embargo while 50 million Arabs from five countries swore to drive its 600,000 people into the sea, Israel initially fought without an air force until the small cadre of foreign airmen created one—and played a disproportionate role in saving the Jewish state. Interviews with eight Americans and one South African bring those desperate days back to life.

“I was risking my citizenship and also jail time,” said former U.S. Army Air Forces pilot Gideon Lichtman. “They asked me how much I wanted to get paid,” George Lichter recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t need any pay.’ I thought I’d be home in a month or two. I really thought we would lose.”

“Jewishness to me didn’t mean anything,” said USAAF pilot and future screenwriter Harold Livingston. “I was an American. But the idea the Jews were going to fight I found exciting. It was about time.”

The filmmakers, who include Steven Spielberg’s sister Nancy, clearly wanted to focus on the human factor, while there were still protagonists alive to tell their stories, and they describe their adventures with individuality and verve. That alone makes Above and Beyond an invaluable documentary about a remarkable band of brothers whose heroics and sacrifices at a critical moment truly made history.


Originally published in the May 2015 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.