From GERARD NOEL in Jerusalem
A new name has now entered the index of already become well known to the world as Until a week or so ago it was only one name among many on the map of Upper Galilee in Israel. This was all it was to me as I prepared to set off from Jerusalem on the fateful morning of Wednesday, May 15 — anniversary day of Israel's Statehood — for a village very near Ma'alot; a small Arab village named Fasouta.
Before I left Jerusalem, however, the first news flashes started coming in of terrorist activity just south of the Lebanese border with Israel. An Arab woman had been among those killed on her way home from Ma'alot to the village I was about to visit.
The same killers, it was then reported, had gone on to occupy a school where some 60 children from another town had been staying the night. From that moment on, tension mounted like a rising tide throughout Israel. There were grave faces in the Press Division of the Foreign Ministry, anxious whisperings between the girls behind the desks at the El Al office. I then drove north, but towards Haifa rather than the Ma'alot area. News every hour gave details of the grimly unfolding drama. With the schoolchildren as hostages, by now obviously in mortal danger, it was announced at noon that the price demanded for their safety had been agreed to, and that some 20 imprisoned terrorists would be released as demanded.
For the next two or three hours I was moving around the campus of the Technion, the vast technological university on the slopes of Mount Carmel. Knots of students, girls and men, listened to their transistors in the blazing. sun. News became confused as the afternoon wore on, and by evening I had arrived, by way of the Sea of Galilee, at a kibbutz in Golan. modern terrorism and that name, of course, has Ma'alot.
The atmosphere by now was almost unbearably tense, as optimistic reports had now been overtaken by mysterious silence. At eight o'clock the Prime Minister, Mrs Golda Meir, was due to speak on television.
By this time the tide of apprehension had reached an ominous peak. It was, in fact, beating against the wall of fear by now somehow encircling the nation. Would the tide recede with Mrs Meir's message, so that Israelis, all seemingly sharing the hostages' suffering, could breathe again? Tension was electric in the kibbutz as more and more eyes became glued to the television. I thought of Elie Wiesel's worlds in his novel of the Six-Day War: "For us no victory would be final, while any defeat would be the last."
On the way back to Jerusalem, down the Jordan Valley and near the scenes of many of Our Lord's miracles, I picked up an old peasant woman travelling to the next village for news of relations wounded at Ma'alot.
Even my limited Hebrew told me all 1 needed to know of what she was saying. I could not help thinking again of some words of Elie Wiese]; "The death of 4a man is only the death of a man, but the death of a child is the death of innocence."
Finally, after tantalising delays, Mrs Meir began to speak. She outlined, in grim monotone, the events and crises of the day. When she announced what had actually happened at Ma'alot, the high tide of tension suddenly burst the wall against which it had been beating for so many hours . . . 16 children dead — many more critically injured. Whatever was to be revealed subsequently, the decision, then and there, to storm the school had seemed inescapable. And now Israelis, old and young, all around me, wept unashamedly.
For me the saddest part was the political post-mortem: The unsympathetic reaction of non-Jews when I got back to Jerusalem. The prejudging of an issue by reference, mostly inaccurate, to past events. The news in English from Jordan which made the Israelis the villains of the whole event.