Horev Committee Absolves Army, Police, School Officials of Blame for Deaths of Maalot Children

The Horev Committee report on the Maalot massacre, released today, absolved the army, police and school authorities of blame for the deaths of 21 Israeli high school students, three members of the Cohen family and a soldier at the hands of terrorists in the Maalot schoolhouse last May 15. The report, submitted to the Knesset this morning, found that the Cabinet in Jerusalem was not in possession of all the facts when it was called on to make fateful decisions during the 12-hour ordeal.

But the report’s conclusion was that the decision to storm the building in an attempt to save the young hostages’ lives was, based on information subsequently obtained, the only decision that could have been taken under the circumstances.

The committee’s report offered a series of recommendations for dealing with similar incidents in the future. Premier Yitzhak Rabin told the Knesset today that his government has already implemented some of them and would implement others. Moshe Dayan told the Knesset that there must never be any surrender to terrorists holding hostages. (See separate stories.)

The report’s only serious criticism was of the behavior of adults–teachers and guides–who escaped from the Maalot 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 involved 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 Maalot school building because of regulations prohibiting carrying arms in populated areas. As a result, the children and their guides had no weapons when they were surprised by the terrorists.

DEEMED LETTER IRRELEVANT

Public interest in the report focussed on the role of former Defense Minister Moshe Dayan who flew to Maalot 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 terrorists spelling out their conditions for release of the hostages. Both, however, acknowledged 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 had been made available to the Cabinet, 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 guarantee the safety of all the hostages and the only alternative 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 government been in possession of the terrorists’ demands, the committee found. Whether earlier action would have saved lives remains moot.

The report was prepared by a three-man panel appointed by former Premier Golda Meir consisting of Gen. (Ret.) Amos Horev, president of the Haifa Technion, and two distinguished jurists. Moshe Onna and Erwin E. Shimron. It found that the terrorist infiltrators had not planned to seize the Maalot schoolhouse but came upon it and the sleeping youngsters by sheer accident before dawn on May 15 while searching for a vehicle to steal.

POOR SECURITY IN MAALOT

The report found that the army had knowledge of terrorists in the vicinity and was adequately re-enforced but could not seal off the Lebanese border totally. The police, too, were alerted but lacked manpower and were not sufficiently re-enforced by the local civil guard. The nearest police commander had no telephone in his home.

The report found that despite its proximity to the Lebanese border, security in Maalot was poor and the town was “open” to infiltration. 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 Safad, where most of the youngsters came from, did not notify police stations along the route of the hike.

The Horev report devoted considerable space to negotiations during May 15 with the French and Rumanian authorities. The terrorists had demanded that negotiations be conducted through the French and Rumanian ambassadors. But the Horev Committee concluded that even if all of the terrorist demands had been accepted, it would have been impossible to implement them by the 6 p.m. deadline the terrorists set. The committee concluded that medical services set up to deal with the emergency were appropriate.

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