Ma'alot massacre

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Ma'alot massacre
Part of Palestinian insurgency in South Lebanon
Israel outline northwest.png
Red pog.svg
The attack site
Location Ma'alot, Israel
Coordinates 33°01′00.35″N35°17′09.90″E / 33.0167639°N 35.2860833°E / 33.0167639; 35.2860833
Date15 May 1974
TargetNetiv Meir elementary school
Attack type
Spree killing, hostage taking, school shooting
Deaths31 Israelis (+ 3 attackers)
Non-fatal injuries
70 Israelis
Perpetrators Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine

The Ma'alot massacre [1] was a Palestinian terrorist attack that occurred in May 1974 and involved a two-day hostage-taking of 115 Israeli people which ended in the murders of over 25 hostages. It began when three armed members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) [2] entered Israel from Lebanon. Soon afterwards they attacked a van, killing two Israeli Arab women while injuring a third and entered an apartment building in the town of Ma'alot, where they killed a couple and their four-year-old son. [3] From there, they headed for the Netiv Meir Elementary School, where they took more than 115 people (including 105 children) hostage on 15 May 1974, in Ma'alot. Most of the hostages were teenagers from a high school in Safad on a Gadna field trip spending the night in Ma'alot. The hostage-takers soon issued demands for the release of 23 Palestinian militants from Israeli prisons, or else they would kill the students. On the second day of the standoff, the Sayeret Matkal stormed the building. During the takeover, the hostage-takers killed children with grenades and automatic weapons. Ultimately, 25 hostages, including 22 children, were killed and 68 more were injured.

Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine political party

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) is a Palestinian Marxist–Leninist–Maoist, secular political and militant organization. It is also frequently referred to as the Democratic Front, or al-Jabha al-Dimuqratiyah. It is a member organization of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Israel country in the Middle East

Israel, officially the State of Israel, is a country in Western Asia, located on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea. It has land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the east and west, respectively, and Egypt to the southwest. The country contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Israel's economic and technological center is Tel Aviv, while its seat of government and proclaimed capital is Jerusalem, although the state's sovereignty over Jerusalem has only partial recognition.

Lebanon Country in Western Asia

Lebanon, officially known as the Lebanese Republic, is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, while Cyprus is west across the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon's location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland facilitated its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity. At just 10,452 km2, it is the smallest recognized sovereign state on the mainland Asian continent.


The attack

Ma'alot, located on a plateau in the hills of the Western Galilee region of Israel, six miles south of the Lebanese border, [4] is a development town founded in 1957 by Jewish immigrants, mainly from Morocco and Tunisia. The attack was carried out by three members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) dressed in Israel Defense Forces uniforms. [5]

Morocco Country in North Africa

Morocco, officially the Kingdom of Morocco, is a country located in the Maghreb region of North West Africa with an area of 710,850 km2 (274,460 sq mi). Its capital is Rabat, the largest city Casablanca. It overlooks the Mediterranean Sea to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Morocco claims the areas of Ceuta, Melilla and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, all of them under Spanish jurisdiction.

Tunisia Country in Northern Africa

Tunisia (officially the Republic of Tunisia) is a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa, covering 163,610 square kilometres. Its northernmost point, Cape Angela, is the northernmost point on the African continent. It is bordered by Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Tunisia's population was 11.435 million in 2017. Tunisia's name is derived from its capital city, Tunis, which is located on its northeast coast.

Israel Defense Forces combined military forces of Israel

The Israel Defense Forces, commonly known in Israel by the Hebrew acronym Tzahal, are the military forces of the State of Israel. They consist of the ground forces, air force, and navy. It is the sole military wing of the Israeli security forces, and has no civilian jurisdiction within Israel. The IDF is headed by its Chief of General Staff, the Ramatkal, subordinate to the Defense Minister of Israel; Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi has served as Chief of Staff since January 15, 2019.

The DFLP terrorists infiltrated through the Nahal Mattat Nature Reserve from south of the Lebanese village of Rumaysh. The group entered Israel near Moshav Zar'it on Sunday night, 13 May. They were armed with AK-47 assault rifles, grenades, and plastic explosives of Czechoslovakian manufacture. They hid until the next night in the orchards near the Druze village of Hurfeish. A border patrol unit discovered their footprints but could not follow the trail, and mistakenly reported to superiors that the footprints belonged to smugglers. [ citation needed ]

Mattat Place in Northern

Mattat is a small community settlement in northern Israel. Located near the Lebanese Border between the cities of Ma'alot-Tarshiha and Safed, it falls under the jurisdiction of Ma'ale Yosef Regional Council. In 2017 it had a population of 193.

Rmaich City in Nabatieh Governorate, Lebanon

Rmeish is located in south Lebanon, Caza Beint Jbeil near the Lebanese-Israeli border covering an area of 20 km2. The ruins found in the village indicate that the area was occupied by the Romans and the Crusaders at some stage in history.

Moshav type of cooperative agricultural community in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories

Moshav is a type of Israeli town or settlement, in particular a type of cooperative agricultural community of individual farms pioneered by the Labour Zionists during the second wave of aliyah. A resident or a member of a moshav can be called a "moshavnik".

Proceeding to Ma'alot up the winding road, they encountered a van driven by a Druze resident of Hurfiesh bringing Christian Arab women from the village of Fassuta home from work at the Ata Textile Works in the Haifa Bay area. The leader of the operation, Linou, stood on the roadway and opened fire on the vehicle, instantly killing one woman, and wounding both the driver and other workers, one of whom later died of her wounds. The driver turned off the headlights and drove backwards up the hill towards Moshav Tzuriel.

Fassuta Place in Israel

Fassouta is a local council on the northwestern slopes of Mount Meron in the Northern District of Israel, south of the Lebanese border. In 2017 it had a population of 3,098, nearly all of whom are Israeli Arab Christians.

Haifa Place in Israel

Haifa is the third-largest city in Israel – after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv – with a population of 281,087 in 2017. The city of Haifa forms part of the Haifa metropolitan area, the second- or third-most populous metropolitan area in Israel. It is home to the Bahá'í World Centre, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a destination for Bahá'í pilgrims.

Tzuriel Place in Northern

Tzuriel is a moshav in northern Israel. Located in the Galilee, it falls under the jurisdiction of Ma'ale Yosef Regional Council. In 2017 it had a population of 323.

Reaching Ma'alot, the militants knocked on the doors of several homes. [3] Fortuna and Yosef Cohen heard the noise and opened their door. The militants shot and killed the couple, their 4-year-old son Eliahu and wounded their 5-year-old daughter Miriam. Fortuna, seven months pregnant, tried to flee the intruders, but she was also shot. The only one in the family who survived unhurt was 16-month-old Yitzhak, a deaf-mute. [3] From there, the militants headed for the Netiv Meir Elementary School where students on a school trip were lodged. On the way, they met Yaakov Kadosh, a sanitation worker, and asked for directions to the school. They beat and shot him, leaving him for dead.

Netiv Meir Elementary School was a three-story concrete building with apartment buildings under construction nearby. The militants entered the building at 4 am, taking 102 students hostage. The teenagers spending the night in the school building were out on a three-day trip. They were students from a high school in Safad. Allegedly one of the parents of the slain teenagers had begged the headmaster to cancel the trip after learning that militants had entered the area. By then it was considered too late to cancel the trip because all the arrangements had been made. [6] Three of four teachers escaped by jumping through the window, abandoning their 90 pupils to their fate, which created a lot of bitterness among the parents. The teachers were immediately suspended from their posts by local authorities. [6] 85 students and several teachers were held hostage. The students were forced to sit on the floor at gunpoint, with explosive charges between them.

In the morning, the militants demanded the release from Israeli prisons of 23 Arab and three other prisoners, including Kozo Okamoto – a Japanese national involved in the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre. Unless these conditions were met, they declared that they would kill the students. The deadline was set for 6:00 pm the same day.

At 10 am a young man named Sylvan Zerach, at home on leave from the army, stood near the base of the tall concrete water tower not far from the school building to get a closer view of what was going on. He was killed by the militants. At an emergency session of the Knesset, a decision was reached to negotiate, but the hostage-takers turned down a request for more time. [7]

Takeover operation

At 17:25, the commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal special forces group was given the 'green light' to storm the building. The assault force was divided into three units; two to break in from the entrance while a third was to climb a ladder and enter from a window facing north. The squads moved into position from the blind side to the east, from the frames of some apartment buildings under construction. The operation was to have been coordinated with simultaneous sniper fire on the three hostage-takers. At 17:32 the first squad entered the building through the main entrance on the first floor, which was blocked with tables and chairs. The first three-man team, led by Yuval Galili of Kibbutz Geva, was hit by gunfire on the stairs leading to the second floor. Galili threw a phosphorus grenade into the second floor hallway to create a smokescreen. The smoke from the explosion blinded the second team led by Amiran Levine, which had been ordered to take out Linou, at that time posted at the third floor window where he had shot Zerach.[ citation needed ]

When they broke into the classroom where the students were being held, Haribi grabbed a student, Gabi Amsalem, and held him at gunpoint on the floor. Rachim was shot dead but Linou managed to reach the classroom, grab several magazines from the teacher's desk and reload his weapon. He then sprayed the students with machinegun fire and tossed grenades out the window. When a burst of fire broke his left wrist, he threw two grenades at a group of girls huddled on the floor. Several students leaped from the windows to the ground, some ten feet below.

Beside the three DFLP militants, twenty-two high school students were killed in the attack and over fifty were wounded. The student victims were buried in their hometown, Safed. [8] Some of the 10,000 mourners who attended the funerals chanted "Death to the terrorists". [9]

Ma'alot massacre victims in the Safed cemetery Ma'alot massacre victims on Zefat Cemetery 19740515 mz 5.jpg
Ma'alot massacre victims in the Safed cemetery


Killed terrorists

Israeli response

The next day Israel Defense Forces planes bombed offices and training bases of the DFLP and PFLP. According to a BBC report, the bombing inflicted damage in seven Palestinian refugee camps and villages in southern Lebanon killing at least 27 people and leaving 138 injured. [9]

After an investigation Attorney General Meir Shamgar decided that the three teachers who escaped and abandoned their students had done no wrong. Parents of the victims angrily rejected the report. [10]

The massacre led to the creation of the Yamam special police unit.

Amos Horev, President of Haifa's Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, headed a Commission of Inquiry in May 1975 that investigated the massacre. The subsequent Commission Report listed a number of mistakes made by the government and security forces, and made several recommendations. [11]


In 2007, American filmmakers visited Ma'alot to film a documentary on the massacre. A memorial corner in the library of the Netiv Meir school displays photographs of the victims and archival footage on the massacre. A feature movie, Their Eyes Were Dry, retells the story of the massacre. [2]

Ma'alot massacre victim avenue (Sderot Kam) in Ramat Gan. PikiWiki Israel 34032 Maalot massacre victim aveneu (Sderot Kam) in Ram.JPG
Ma'alot massacre victim avenue (Sderot Kam) in Ramat Gan.

A Reform synagogue in southern California is named Shir Ha-Ma'alot ("Song of Ascent") in memory of the victims. [12]

See also

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  1. Sources describing the event as a "massacre":
    • "The day after the Ma'alot massacre, condemned by Pope Paul VI and most Western leaders as 'an evil outrage…'" Frank Gervasi. Thunder Over the Mediterranean, McKay, 1975, p. 443.
    • "The previous day Israel had been traumatized by the Ma'alot massacre, which had resulted in the deaths of numerous schoolchildren." William B. Quandt. Peace Process: American Diplomacy and the Arab-Israeli Conflict Since 1967, Brookings Institution Press, 2001, p. 432.
    • "Faced with a public outcry over the Ma'alot massacre, they demanded of Syria a pledge to forbid terrorist to cross the Golan into Israel." Milton Viorst. Sands of Sorrow: Israel's Journey from Independence, I.B. Tauris, 1987, p. 192.
    • "...Organization (PLO) crimes, like the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972 and the Ma'alot massacre of children in 1974." Richard J. Chasdi. Tapestry of Terror: A Portrait of Middle East Terrorism, 1994–1999, Lexington Books, 2002, p. 6.
    • "The PFLP was responsible for the Ma'alot massacre on May IS, 1974 during which 22 Israeli children were killed." Alex Peter Schmid, A. J. Jongman, Michael Stohl. Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories, & Literature, Transaction Publishers, 2005, p. 639.
    • "On 22 November 1974, six months after the Ma'alot massacre, the United Nations General Assembly voted to accept the Palestine Liberation Organisation as an..." Martin Gilbert. The Jews in the Twentieth Century: An Illustrated History, Schocken Books, 2001, p. 327.
    • Khoury, Jack. "U.S. filmmakers plan documentary on Ma'alot massacre", Haaretz , 7 March 2007.
  2. 1 2 Khoury, Jack. "U.S. filmmakers plan documentary on Ma'alot massacre", Haaretz , 7 March 2007.
  3. 1 2 3 "Bullets, Bombs and a Sign of Hope", TIME , 27 May 1974.
  4. Mayhew, Iain. "Israel’s Front Line Children", Daily Mirror , 10 August 2006.
  5. Adam Dolnik, Keith M. Fitzgerald, Gary Noesner. Negotiating Hostage Crises with the New Terrorists, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008, pp. 28–29.
  6. 1 2 "Suspend 3 Teachers Who Escaped from School Building in Maalot". JTA. 22 May 1974. Archived from the original on 15 April 2013. Retrieved 3 October 2012.
  7. Stohl, Michael. 1983. "Demystifying Terrorism: The Myths and Realities of Contemporary Political Terrorism," in M. Stohl (ed.) The Politics of Terrorism, 2nd edition. Marcel Dekker, p. 10.
  8. Shuman, Ellis. "Where terrorists learned to attack schools" Archived 11 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine ., Israelinsider , 6 September 2004. Accessed 11 December 2008.
  9. 1 2 "1974: Dozens die as Israel retaliates for Ma'alot", BBC News , On this day: 16 May. Accessed 11 December 2008.
  10. David Landau (4 September 1974). "Shamgar Says There is No Basis for Prosecution of Maalot Teachers, Hike Leader, Guide Who Fled from". JTA. Retrieved 3 October 2012.[ dead link ]
  11. Ami Pedahzur (20 May 1974). The Israeli secret services and the struggle against terrorism. Columbia University Press. ISBN   978-0-231-14042-3 . Retrieved 17 June 2010.
  12. "Congregation Shir Ha-Ma'alot". Archived from the original on 4 September 2011. Retrieved 27 April 2011.