In the annals of Israeli terror attacks its one of the most memorable in a long line of such horrible incidents. Horrible not just because of the shock of the incident (then bus hijackings were unheard of). But for the trail of lies, collusion and cowardice perpetrated by senior Israeli officials to cover-up the murder in cold-blood of the attackers after they’d been captured.
It is known as the Bus (or Kav) 300 incident for the name of the bus line on which the hijacked vehicle ran. In April 1984, four Palestinians from Gaza took over the bus just after it left Tel Aviv. Eventually, Israeli forces stopped it and commandos attacked killing two of the militants. The remaining two were removed from the bus in handcuffs. Pictures of them were later disseminated around the world. Then Shin Bet chief Avraham Shalom commanded that they be killed on the spot. They were dispatched with blows to the skull from large rocks. No one at the time was aware that a photographer had recorded the terrorists alive and in handcuffs. When the Shin Bet reported that all the terrorists had been killed during the operation to free the bus, David Shipler told NY Times readers that the Israeli magazine, Hadashot had a photograph of one of the hijackers, Majdi Abu Jummaa being led alive off the bus.
In Israel, Uri Avnery’s HaOlam HaZeh, published a photo that blurred the face of the hijacker. Then all hell broke loose.
The Shin Bet chief tried to blame the IDF officer in charge of the operation. The State tried him and eleven others for the murders, but they were not convicted. Later, it turned out that Shalom had orchestrated the entire trial in order to protect himself and his staff.
Later, three Shin Bet deputies turned on their boss. They appealed to minister Shimon Peres, but he backed Shalom. The deputies were then forced out of the agency. One and a half years after the incident, they all turned to the State attorney general, Yitzhak Zamir, who opened an investigation against Shalom. But before he could prosecute, he too was forced from office after he refused to end it and was charged with jeopardizing national security. No one was punished. In fact, Israel’s then president, Chaim Herzog issued blanket pardons to a number of figures even before being charged. Shalom charged that all his actions had been authorized, which implied that even prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was implicated. It was a deemed a fuck-up too big to fail. The State, as a result, circled the wagons to protect its own and turned on the lesser figures who were trying to stand up for right and decency. The whistleblowers, as usual, got the short end and the evildoers got off scot-free.
When he retired from the Shin Bet in 1996, Ehud Yatom admitted in an interview that he was the killer and proud of that fact. He added this memorable and truly twisted claim:
“Only clean, moral hands in Shin Bet can do what is needed in a democratic state.”
The Bus 300 incident harkens back to an earlier time in the history of Israel. A time when Israelis still trusted implicitly anything their leaders, especially their military and intelligence leaders told them. They still do, by the way. But no longer does every Israeli do so without question. Then there was trust and innocence, a belief in authority and in the justness of the Israeli cause. In hindsight, many look back on this incident and see it as a turning point and everything that followed from it proved the hypocrisy and mendaciousness of which the authorities were capable in order to protect their interests, especially when they involved Palestinians, whose lives were deemed cheap enough to sacrifice.
The incident also put into sharp relief the role of the media in exposing the sordid underbelly of the cover-up. Journalists like Shipler (who later won a Pulitzer Prize) and Avnery were the heroes. Unfortunately, today there are fewer heroes and more evildoers, or at least those in the media who acquiesce to them.