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The Ma’alot massacre occurred in May 1974 and involved a two-day hostage-taking of 115 people which ended in the deaths of over 25 hostages. It began when three armed members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) 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. 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, a unit of the Golani Brigade 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.
Ma’alot, located on a plateau in the hills of the Western Galilee region of Israel, six miles south of the Lebanese border, 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.
The DFLP terrorists infiltrated through the Nahal Mattat Nature Reserve from south of the Lebanese village of Ramish. 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.
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.
Reaching Ma’alot, the terrorists knocked on the doors of several homes. Fortuna and Yosef Cohen heard the noise and opened their door. The terrorists 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. 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 terrorists 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 terrorists had entered the area. By then it was considered too late to cancel the trip because all the arrangements had been made. 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. 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 terrorists 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 terrorists. At an emergency session of the Knesset, a decision was reached to negotiate, but the hostage-takers turned down a request for more time.
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.
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, including Ilana Turgeman, Rachel Aputa, Yocheved Mazoz, Sarah Ben-Shim’on, Yona Sabag, Yafa Cohen, Shoshana Cohen, Michal Sitrok, Malka Amrosy, Aviva Saada, Yocheved Diyi, Yaakov Levi, Yaakov Kabla, Rina Cohen, Ilana Ne’eman, Sarah Madar, Tamar Dahan, Sarah Sofer, Lili Morad, David Madar and Yehudit Madar. Over 50 were wounded. The student victims were buried in their hometown, Safed. Some of the 10,000 mourners who attended the funerals chanted “Death to the terrorists.”