The Defense Ministry announced budget cuts to an already spartan memorial service for the victims of a tragic massacre. For the past 40 years, the ministry had provided NIS 10,000 annually for the costs of the memorial service for victims of the Ma'alot attack, but in what has been construed as a cynical move, the grant was cut for 2014.
"I want to believe that the Defense Ministry didn't make this decision as part of a protest against the attempt to cut back the defense budget," the mayor of Safed Ilan Shohat, whose aunt died in the attack, angrily said.
The massacre in Ma'alot took place exactly 40 years ago, on May 15, 1974, when school children who were spending the night in Safed were taken hostage. During the takeover operation, 22 of them were killed and 68 more were injured.
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Since then, a memorial ceremony to commemorate the victims has been taking place in the Safed cemetary, with the Defense Ministry supplying the funds for transportation for the families, the sound amplification systems and cold drinks at the service.
However, the secretary of the municipality of Safed received a message on Monday from the Defense Ministry Memorial Department, a week ahead of the scheduled ceremony, saying that the funding has been terminated. According to the mayor, the official explanation given for the cuts was that "the matter should be transferred to the treatment of the National Insurance Institute."
Shohat expressed outrage on Monday over the decision, which was first announced on Channel 2. "This is not a financial problem, it's a slap in the face, a showing of impertinence and audacity against the bereaved families, the likes of which I have never seen," he said. "It's hard for me to criticize the IDF that is dear to my heart, but this a lack of sensitivity on behalf of the Defense Ministry.
"The children who were murdered went out on a school trip and spent the night at a school in Ma'alot and were murdered due to the fact that the IDF failed in their operation. The scar from then along with those failures resound to this day. Essentially, the Defense Ministry's decision is telling the bereaved families: 'we're not with you any longer.' They have been carrying this pain for 40 years, and this miserable decision is a twist of the knife."
The Finance Ministry responded angrily to the move by the Defense Ministry, and MK Yair Lapid ordered the immediate transfer of NIS 10,000 to fund the memorial.
"There's never been such an ugly battle," a senior source in the ministry said. "One can only feel ashamed that an Office with a budget of more than NIS 60 billion plays with the feelings of bereaved families over such a meager amount. The Defense Ministry broke a new record when it chose to run an aggressive family at the expense of the families, and this is done during a year in which the defense budget is at its highest."
The Defense Ministry said in response: "Students who were killed in the Ma'alot massacre were defined victims of acts of hostility, and the National Insurance Institute is handling the families. Out of sensitivity, the Defense Ministry has been helping with the organization of the memorial ceremony over the years. This year, we coordinated with the National Insurance Institute that they will take responsibility for the ceremony. Of course this isn't related to the budget issue.
The Defense Ministry said in response: "Students who were killed in the Ma'alot massacre were defined victims of acts of hostility, and the National Insurance Institute is handling the families.
"Out of sensitivity, the Defense Ministry has been helping with the organization of the memorial ceremony over the years. This year, we coordinated with the National Insurance Institute that they will take responsibility for the ceremony. Of course this has nothing to do with the budget issue."