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35 Years After

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Message Ari Bussel
While in Israel, I was invited to visit the old cemetery of Tsfat.  Major restoration work is taking place there, alongside a hillside spread with stones.  Underneath are hundreds of graves.  Over the centuries, their tombstones became rubble, washed away by rain, exposing some of the graves underneath.  This was my opportunity to learn that all tombstones in a Jewish cemetery face East, thus all headrests are aligned, row after row, toward Jerusalem.

A separate section of the cemetery is the final resting place of a group of school children murdered 35 years ago in the 1974 Maalot Massacre.  I stopped to ponder about the world then and now.  Today's parents were children then, when the Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) War came to an end.  The country's leadership during that time, a generation of giants, is no longer with us.  Today's "leaders" have all been investigated for wrongdoing.  It seems that now, even in Israel, power corrupts.  Today, more than ever before, there is non-stop scrutiny by the media--everything is covered online or via a hand-held instrument.  The world has clearly changed.

A group of 105 high school children from a religious school in Tsfat, ages 15-17, along with ten adults were on a field trip.  Due to heightened security alerts, they wound up sleeping at the local school building in the nearby city of Maalot rather than outside in nature.  A day earlier, a Palestinian terrorist unit had penetrated from Lebanon.  Their paths would meet in Maalot, a city about six miles from the border.

The three terrorists who crossed the border from Lebanon to Israel entered an apartment building in Maalot, murdering an Israeli couple and one of their children, a four-year-old boy, wounding another. A third child, deaf and mute, was silent, hidden in a closet, and thus went undiscovered. The terrorists then wounded a sanitation worker they encountered outside.  When they finally arrived at the local school it was early morning Tuesday, May 15th, 1974. The adults were asleep, but the children still excitedly awake.

As the three terrorists overcame the school, the teachers along with some of the children managed to flee.  Eighty-five children and four adults remained hostages in the hands of the terrorists.  In an act that would later become the trademark of Hezbollah and Hamas, the children were stationed as live shields with the terrorists hiding behind them.  True cowardice is the essence of the difference between "us" and "them."

 An unassuming, quiet and humble eleventh grader, Jacob Kabala, exhibited extraordinary inner strength when he took the lead, when none of the adults was able to function.  He took care of his fellow students, acted as a liaison between the terrorists and the hostages and between the terrorists and the army.  At the most crucial moment he attempted to overcome one of the terrorists and was murdered.  By his actions, he saved many of his fellow students.

The terrorists demanded the release of 20 of their "brothers" in Israel.  They warned that if their "brothers" were not flown to Damascus, Syria, by 18:00 that day, they would blow up the school and all those inside.

Israel's leadership was torn. One does not negotiate with terrorists, but what does one do when children are involved?  Golda Meir was Prime Minister and  "One Eye" Moshe Dayan was the Minister of Defense.  The Government of Israel, under their leadership, unwilling to capitulate to terrorist demands, authorized military action.  The operation commenced 45 minutes before the 6 o'clock ultimatum. Twenty-two children were murdered and 68 wounded.

 The events that unfolded have left, to this day, a traumatic mark on Israel's collective memory.  These lessons would prompt the subsequent creation of both the police and military elite units to handle similar occurrences, and the formation of the civil guard authority.

How does one deal with taking school children hostage?  It would be three decades later that Russia would have to deal with a similar situation--reminding us all that terrorism methodology works, and is very effective, not only against the Jews.

Exploding oneself in a hotel or pizza place works equally well in Jerusalem, Israel, as in a wedding in Amman, Jordan.  Using cars as weapons is equally effective in Israel or Iraq.  Kidnapping children and using them as bartering chips works as well in Israel against Jews as against Russians in the Russian Federation.  Burying 186 children in the Beslan school massacre is as traumatic to a nation as burying 18 girls and four boys in the Maalot school massacre.

Their Eyes were Dry

Brandon Assanti, a 22-year old American from Los Angeles, has spent the last three years creating a documentary about the Maalot Massacre.  His achievement is reinforced by his young age, the fact he continued to attend school during this period and an utter lack of knowledge of the Hebrew language or Israeli culture. When one adds the duration of time between an event that occurred long before his birth and the realities of today, it makes Brandon's accomplishment even more remarkable.

Assanti managed to take us on a journey in a train of clips, interviews and reenactments, propelled by an engine driven by music. In the movie, Their Eyes Were Dry, Assanti, a tourist from a different culture, time and place, managed to captivate his audience and leave them with numerous questions.  A sea of red and teary eyes reflected the power of his story telling talents.

I visited a cemetery where sages from the Middle Ages are buried and various charms are believed bestowed on those who visit the graves. I stumbled upon a story from long ago, one that must be told so we do not forget, learn and do not repeat mistakes of the past.  If we do so when it is quiet and calm, we might hopefully be able to apply these lessons at a time of need---which will undoubtedly visit us again.

The children of the 1974 massacre are now parents.  In a cemetery in Tsfat the murdered children are buried.  Trees that were planted 35 years ago in their memory now provide shade in this eternal resting place.

May Israel no longer know such sorrows.  May Israel find wisdom to fight and withstand the terror inflicted by those determined to destroy the Jewish State.  May a day come when evil is for all time eradicated, and to this goal we must remain forever unyielding. 
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Ari Bussel is an activist with a deep passion and commitment to truth. His continuous fact-finding missions to the Middle East to secure truthful and factual information about the status of the situation are disseminated to a worldwide audience (more...)
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