The Ma'alot massacre[1] was an attack on May 15, 1974 in Ma'alot, Israel, in which 22 Israeli high school students, aged 14–16, from Safed were killed by three members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.[2] Before reaching the school, the trio shot and killed two Arab women, a Jewish man, his pregnant wife, and their 4 year old son, and wounded several others.[3]

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 dressed in Israel Defense Force uniforms.[5]

The 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, May 13. They were armed with AK-47 assault rifles, hand 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, Lini, 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.[3] 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 wounding their 5-year old daughter Miriam. Fortuna, seven months pregnant, tried to flee the intruders, but was also shot. The only one in the family who survived unhurt was 16-month-old Yitzhak, a deaf-mute.[3] From there, the terrorists 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 a.m., taking 102 students hostage. Some managed to escape by jumping out of windows, but 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 captors 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 p.m. the same day.

At 10 a.m. a young man named Sylvan Zerach, at home on leave from the Army, tried to climb a water tower not far from the school building to get a closer view of what was going on. He was shot to death by one of the hostage-takers.

General Mordechai Gur was in favor of negotiating with the hostage-takers, but according to Noam Chomsky, he was overruled by Moshe Dayan.[6] 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]

The break-in

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 Lini, 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 Lini managed to reach the classroom, grab ammunition clips 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.

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.[8] Some of the 10,000 mourners who attended the funerals chanted "Death to the terrorists." [9]


The next day the Israel Defence Force planes bombed offices and training bases of the Popular Democratic Front and the Popular Front.[9] 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]


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 is also being planned.[2]

A reform synagogue in southern California is named Shir Ha-Ma'alot ("The Steps of Ma'alot") in memory of the victims.


  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, March 07, 2007.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Khoury, Jack. "U.S. filmmakers plan documentary on Ma'alot massacre", Haaretz, March 07, 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Bullets, Bombs and a Sign of Hope", TIME, May 27, 1974.
  4. Mayhew, Iain. "Israel’s Front Line Children", Daily Mirror, August 10, 2006.
  5. Adam Dolnik, Keith M. Fitzgerald, Gary Noesner. Negotiating Hostage Crises with the New Terrorists, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008, pp. 28-29.
  6. Noam Chomsky, Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World, South End Press, Cambridge Mass. rev.edition 2002 p.65, citing Uri Milstein, Monitin, August 1984
  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", Israelinsider, September 6, 2004. Accessed December 11, 2008.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 "1974: Dozens die as Israel retaliates for Ma'alot", BBC News website, On this day: 16 May. Accessed December 11, 2008.

Shir HaMaalot is the Song of Ascent, Psalm 121

See also

ar:مذبحة معالوتno:Ma'alot-massakren pt:Massacre do liceu de Maalot sv:Ma'alot-massakern

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