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July 12, 1974 - Image 26

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1974-07-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Ma'alot Report: Na Alternative
but to Storm the Schoolhouse

,f1.574 VW, f T

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TEL AVIV (JTA) — The
Horev Committee report on
the Ma'alot massacre, re-
leased Wednesday, absolved
the army, police and school
authorities of blame for the
deaths of 21 Israeli high
school students, three mem-
bers of a family and a
soldier at the hands of ter-
rorists in the Ma'alot school-
house May 15.
The report, submitted to
the Knesset, found that the
cabinet in Jerusalem was not
in possession of all the facts
when it was called on to
make fateful decisions dur-
ing the 12-hour ordeal.
But the report's conclusion
was that the decision to
storm the building in an at-
tempt to save the young hos-
tages' lives was — based on
information subsequently ob-
tained — the only decision
that could have been taken
under the circumstances.
The committee's report of-
fered a series of recommen-
dations for dealing with
similar incidents in the
f u t u r e. Premier Yitzhak
Rabin told the Knesset that
his government has already
implemented some of them
and would implement others.
The report's only serious
criticism was of the behavior
of adults — teachers and
guides — who escaped from
the Ma'alot school building
when the armed terrorists
burst in, leaving their
charges to their fate. The
education ministry announced
later that it would decide
whether to bring those in-
volved before a disciplinary
court.
The report disclosed that
the leader of the three-day
Independence Day camping
trip that ended in tragedy
possessed arms but left them
in a car outside the Ma'alot
school building because of
regulations prohibiting carry-
ing arms in populated areas.
As a result, the children and
their guides had no weapons
when they were surprised by
the terrorists.
Public interest in the re-
port focused on the role of

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former Defense Minister
Moshe Dayan, who flew to
Ma'alot in the early hours
of May 15 and remained on
the scene throughout the
day. It was Dayan who fed
information back to the
cabinet room in Jerusalem.
But he and Chief of Staff
Gen. Mordechai Gur never
saw a letter from the terror-
ists spelling out their con-
ditions for release of the
hostages.
Both, however, acknowl-
edged that they knew of the
letter, if not its contents, but
deemed it irrelevant because
it had been prepared days
before in Beirut. The Horev
Committee found that if the
contents of the letter been
made available to the cabi-
net, the latter could have
only come to the conclusion
that it was hopeless to try
to negotiate a deal with the
terrorists.
The demands were totally
unacceptable, did not guar-
antee the safety of all the
hostages, and the only alter-
native was to revert to the
military option, which was
eventually done, the 50-page
Horev report said.
But it might have been
done earlier had the govern-
ment been in possession of
the terrorists' demands, the
committee found. Whether
earlier action would have
saved lives remains moot.
Dayan told the Knesset
Wednesday that the cabinet
had never decided to accede
to the Ma'alot terrorists' de-
mands. The decision (which
he opposed) was to agree to
a simultaneous exchange of
prisoners for hostages —
which the Ma'alot men were
not offering.
The latter's offer involved
letting the 20 imprisoned ter-
rorists fly to Damascus while
leaving the hostages to the
mercies of the Ma'alot ter-
rorists. Basically, this was
always their position, Dayan
said. There had been various
variations, and all of them
had been brought before the
cabinet.
This difference between
what Israel was prepared to
agree to and what the terror-
ists were demanding was the
key to the whole episode,
Dayan said.
The report had omitted a
vital half-sentence, "I hope
not intentionally," Dayan
said: He had told the cab-
inet the school could be
stormed, but (and this was
omitted) he had stressed he
could not guarantee there
would not be casualties.
Dayan reiterated his view
that there must never be
surrender to terrorists who
hold hostages — no matter
what the age or condition of
the hostages. This ought to
be a cardinal precept which
the Knesset should determine
once and for all, he said.
Dayan stressed, though,
that while he had disagreed
with the cabinet's decision
to try and negotiate, he
would never have ordered
the use of force without full
authorization from the cab-
inet.
The report was prepared
by a three-man panel ap-
pointed by former Premier

Golda Meir, consisting of
Gen. (Ret) Amos Horev,
president of the Haifa Tech-
nion, and two distinguished
jurists, Moshe Unna and
Erwin E. Shimron. It found
that the terrorist infiltrators
had not planned to seize the
Ma'alot schoolhouse but came
upon it and the sleeping
youngsters by sheer accident
before dawn on May 15 while
searching for a vehicle to
steal.
The report found that the
army had knowledge of ter-
rorists in the vicinity and
was adequately re-enforced
but could not seal off the
Lebanese border totally. The
police, too, were alert but
lacked manpower and were
not sufficiently reenforced
by the local civil guard. The
nearest police commander
had no telephone in his home.
The report found that de-
spite its proximity to the
Lebanese border, security in
Ma'alot was poor and the
town was "open" to infiltra-
tion. It found that the school
authorities had fulfilled their
instructions with regard to
camping trips. The police
were informed and a police
permit was issued. But the
police in Safed, where most
of the youngsters came from,
did not notify police stations
along the route of the hike.
Rabin told the Knesset that
his government saw its main
task "not to discuss the past
but to draw all the lessons
implied by the committee's
work and its recommenda-
tions for the future."
He indicated that since his
government had not ap-
pointed the committee and
that none of its actions or
decisions had been examined
by the panel, it was unneces-
sary to discuss or dispute
the committee's findings or
its criticism of ministers or
others involved in the Ma'alot
episode.
The Horev Committee
recommended that a small
ministerial body, rather than
the entire cabinet, be set up
to deal with such emergen-
cies in the future.
Rabin announced that in
compliance with that sug-
gestion, a three-man minis-
terial team has been estab-
lished, consisting of the pre-
mier, the minister of defense
and the minister of police.
They will function as a
standing committee when an
emergency arises, but it will
be up to the premier to de-
cide when to convene the
group and whether to co-opt
any other ministers or offi-
cials, Rabin said.
He also stated that the
committee's recommendation
that police manpower be in-
creased to cope with terror
ist acts and that civil de-
fense, volunteer groups and
other auxiliary bodies have
their roles more clearly de-
fined, would be incorporated
in the police minister's plan
to increase police manpower.
Rabin said the education
ministry was preparing new
guidelines for school outings
which define in detail the ob-
ligations of adults accom-
paning the students.

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