The 1970 school bus attack results in a reunion, and the ultimate revenge.
On Tuesday, May 25, 2015, we continued our tour of northern Israel along the Lebanese border, stopping at Moshav Avivim.
While our discovery of a memorial to the victims of the Haifa Bus 37 suicide bombing and our visit to Ziv Hospital in Safed, and its Syrian patients, were unexpected, our visit to the Moshav was even more emotional and full of surprises – Revenge and Reunion.
We met with Shimon Biton, the Secretary of the Moshav. (Our excellent guide, Udi Guberman, provided translation, as Shimon does not speak English.)A Moshav is a type of collective farming community where homes are owned individually and owners are allotted separate plots of land, but the community shares in certain expenses and resources. (Unlike a classic kibbutz, where all the property is communal.)
There currently are 120 families in the Moshav, 480 people. There are plans to expand to add at least another 50 families, and the demand outpaces available spots.
Moshav Avivim sits along the Lebanese border, just south of Bint Jbeil and Maroun Al-Ras.
When I say right along the border, I mean right along the border:
As we drove to Moshav Avivim, the border fence was just off the road. In this image, the fence along the road is not the border fence – there is another fence just beyond with electronic sensors and between the two a groomed dirt road to detect footprints of intruders.
Moshav Avivim was founded in 1958 by Polish Holocaust survivors who left after just a couple of years. From 1960-1963 it was an army base, and in 1963 50 Jewish immigrant families from Morocco were settled there by the government. Shimon Biton’s family was one of those families — He told us that he was conceived in Morocco but born in Israel, the first baby born at Moshav Avivim.
Biton is a common surname at Moshav Avivim.
It was a hard life for the new Moroccan immigrants. They were given little by the government, and forced to fend for themselves, according to Biton. Most of the work prior to 1970 was for the Jewish National Fund.
May 22, 1970 – The School Bus Attack
Moshav Avivim and another community down the road split the school grades because neither itself had enough few children to justify a school with all grades. So the older children from the other community would come by bus to Moshav Avivim, and the bus would then bring the younger children from Moshav Avivim to the other community.
That was what happened on May 22, 1970. The older children got off the bus at Moshav Avivim, and the younger children from Moshav Avivim boarded the bus.
Shimon Biton, then six and one-half years old, boarded the bus accompanied by his father, Machluf Biton, who was the parent designated to ride the bus that day. Several of Shimon’s cousins also were on the bus. The bus clearly was a school bus, and followed the same routine every day.
A few kilometers after the bus left Moshav Avivim, it was attacked with bazooka fire from three terrorist belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, who infiltrated from Lebanon.
Here is what the inside of the bus looked like:
Shimon’s father was killed in the attack, but Shimon initially was not severely injured since he was at the back. As he ran forward to check on his father, Shimon was shot several time by one of the terrorists. (He offered to show us the wounds, but we declined.)
Medics and the army quickly descended on the scene. Here is a photo of Shimon being carried away on a stretcher, cared for by a nurse from a neighboring kibbutz. Shimon keeps the photo on his phone, and provided it to me:
Shimon would spend the next year at Rambam Hospital in Haifa. It was several months before he learned his father had been killed, along with three first cousins, two boys and a girl on his father’s side.
Here is a list of the 12 dead:
Ester Avikezer (23), Yehuda Ohayon (10), Yafa Batito (8), Shimon Azran (35), Mimon Biton (7), Haviva Biton (7), Chana Biton (8), Shimon Biton (9), Shulamit Biton (9), Machluf Biton (28), Aliza Peretz (14), Rami Yarkoni (29).
There would be a 13th to die from the attack, but not for 43 years, as Yeshiva World reported on December 30, 2013, 13th Victim of the Terror Attack on School Bus from Moshav Avivim 43 Years Ago:
43 years after nine of her classmates and three adults were murdered en route to school in the Upper Galil, Leah Revivo HY”D (52) died last week from an infection from a fragment of shrapnel lodged in her brain in the 1970 attack….
Leah was first thought to be among the dead and they only realized sometime later that she was alive, albeit gravely injured. She was transported to Rambam Medical Center in Haifa. Family members explain she carried the shrapnel scars on her body her entire life, along with the fragments that remained lodged in her brain. She overcame the odds and fought the ominous predictions of doctors by rehabilitating herself, getting married and having children and a life.
Leah’s life took a turn for the worse two years ago when one of the pieces of shrapnel in her brain became infected. She began having seizures. On erev Rosh Hashanah 5774 she had a major seizure event and she sustained severe neurological damage. About two months ago she was listed “in a vegetative state” and she eventually died of infection from the shrapnel in her head.
The Aftermath – Surviving and Thriving
According to Shimon, one of the terrorists was killed by the army as they fled. A second one would participate in another attack on Kibbutz Misgav Am and be captured, only to be released decades later as part of a prisoner exchange for the bodies of three Israeli soldiers. [Note, I think he was referring to the 2004 exchange of several hundred prisoners for the bodies and Israeli citizen Elhanan Tannenbaum.] Shimon says he petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to prevent the release, unsuccessfully. The third terrorist escaped and has not been found.
Shimon and the rest of his extended family stayed on the Moshav. Not a single Moshav family left because of the attack. His mother, who was 23 at the time of the attack, would not remarry for 12 years.
Shimon initially was turned down for army service due to his injuries, but his mother badgered the IDF until they let him in. He would serve in the Lebanon War in 1982, going all the way to Beirut, and would later serve delivering water to Lebanese villages prior to Israel’s departure from Lebanon.
Shimon expressed pride that his children not only were successful, but served in the IDF. He invited us into his lovely home, where we met his wife.
Trouble Never Far Away
While there have been no more attacks on Moshav Avivim, there has been trouble along the fence.
IDF soldiers were killed and nine wounded in a clash with Hizbullah forces on the Lebanese side of the border.
The forces had been sent in to destroy a Hizbullah outpost directly opposite the moshav. The outpost was originally built by the IDF and abandoned intact after prime minister Ehud Barak ordered a hasty withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000….
Four-hundred people live in Avivim. About half of them – including almost all of the women, children and elderly people with health problems – have been evacuated from the moshav, according to Shimon Biton, head of the Avivim residents’ committee and a member of the emergency team. The able-bodied men have stayed behind to protect their homes and look after their poultry.
Biton is tough and determined. He lost his father in 1970, when Palestinian terrorists belonging to the Syrian-sponsored Saeka organization fired two bazooka shells at a school bus, killing 12 Avivim residents, most of them children, and wounding about 25. “We ask the government to support the army and give it another month to do the job,” said Biton. “We are prepared to sit in shelters all that time.”
In 2011, attempts to breach the fence by protesters resulted in Deadly clashes on Israel’s borders with Syria, Lebanon (Ynet, May 15, 2011)
Meanwhile, thousands of Lebanese citizens gathered at the Maroun al-Ras boardwalk near Moshav Avivim to protest on “Nakba Day.” Lebanese Army forces pushed them away from the border by firing warning shots in the air.
According to later reports, Israeli forces also fired in the air to repel Palestinians demonstrating at the border, wounding dozens. At least 10 people were reportedly killed and more than 100 were hurt at the site.
IDF officials said the casualties were likely hit by Lebanese forces, who directed heavy fire at the protestors….
IDF Northern Command Chief Gadi Eisenkot declared a northern road connecting various area communities as a restricted military zone.
Moshav Avivim Council Chairman Shimon Biton told Ynet: “For more than four decades now I’ve seen the Lebanese protest in Maroun al-Ras . They’ve never gotten close to the border fence. They’re not going to do it today either. I suggest that Arab governments concentrate on taking care of their own people rather than thinkig of ways to hurt us.”
In February 2015, there was another incident near the fence involving Hezbollah supporters, but there were no casualties.
Revenge and Reunion
What were his feelings over the years? Shimon felt that he had exacted revenge, but not in the way you might think.
Revenge, according to Shimon, came from the fact that “we are still here and building for another 70 families.”
That could be the end of the story, a story of triumph over evil at great cost, of perseverance, of building while others sought to tear down.
But there was a twist.
Remember that nurse in the photo above? Shimon had no contact with her for 45 years. He was in shock at the time, and wouldn’t have remembered what she looked like, much less her name.
Ten days before we met him, Shimon met that nurse for the first time since that fateful day 45 years earlier, at a reunion with several other survivors.
Here is the photo Shimon shared with me from his phone, next to the nurse, Adina: