As they do every year,residents of the northern city of Ma’alot will mark the 40th anniversary of the terrorist massacre at a high school in the city on Thursday. But for the first time the memorial ceremony will take place this year without the Ministry of Defense support.
Even by Israeli standards, the attack by Palestinian “freedom fighters” on May 15, 1974 was shocking: A terror cell associated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine infiltrated Israel’s northern border from Lebanon and killed two Israeli Arab women in a van before entering an apartment building in Ma’alot, about six kilometres from the border, where they killed a couple and their four-year-old son.
Next, the killers set their sights on the Netiv Meir Elementary School; there, they took more than 115 people (including 105 children) hostage, most of whom had been visiting Ma’alot on a school trip from their home in Tzfat.
In exchange for the hostages, the Arabs demanded the release of 23 Palestinian murderers from Israeli prisons, and they threatened to kill the hostages if their demands were not met. Eventually, two days into the standoff, IDF soldiers stormed the building, leading the captors to set off grenades and to open fire with automatic weapons at the childre. In all, 25 hostages were killed and 68 people were injured. 22 murder victims were children.
There is evidence to suggest that current Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen was the mastermind behind the attack, though this has never been proven.
Since then, the Ministry of Defence has provided modest funding for the annual memorial service, which costs approximately NIS 10,000 ($2900). This year, however, the ministry informed the Tzfat municipality that no funding would be forthcoming. According to the Yedioth Aharonoth Hebrew-language newspaper, Ministry officials told Tzfat Mayor Ilan Shohat that the city would have to ask the National Insurance Institute for funding.
In response, Shohat slammed the Defense Ministry. “This is not a money problem. It is a slap in the face, and an incredible display of chutzpah to the bereaved families. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Shohat told the newspaper.
Shohat said the pain of the incident lives on for the families of the victims, and added that the operational failures place a special measure of responsibility on the IDF to work with the bereaved families.
“The scars and the failures continue to hurt. This decision sends a clear message to the families: We are no longer with you. They have been carrying around this pain for the past 40 years; this cursed decision only serves to twist the knife that has been permanently stabbed into their hearts,” Shohat said.
In contrast to the Defense Ministry, officials in the Finance Ministry said they would immediately forward NIS 10,000 to fund the annual ceremony. But an unnamed source slammed the defense establishment for “playing games” with the feelings of terror victims.
“There has never been an uglier campaign that this one,” said the source. “The Defense Ministry should be ashamed that with a budget of more than NIS 60 billion, they have chosen to play games with the feelings of bereaved families, and for such an insignificant sum. The Defense Ministry has set a new record when it decided to conduct a brutal campaign against the families, especially in a year when the defense budget is larger than it has ever been.”
The Defense Ministry said in response, “The victims of the Ma’alot attack are considered victims of terror. It is the National Insurance Institute’s responsibility to take care of them. For years, the Defense Ministry has undertaken this role; this year,we have coordinated with the NII so they would take responsibility for the ceremony. It’s got nothing to do with the budget,” a Ministry spokesman told Yedioth.