Military Wiki
Coastal Road massacre
Part of Palestinian insurgency in South Lebanon
Remains of hijacked bus
Israel outline center ta.png
Red pog.svg
The attack site
Location Coastal Highway near Tel Aviv
Coordinates 32°8′52.64″N 34°48′11.35″E / 32.1479556°N 34.8031528°E / 32.1479556; 34.8031528
Date March 11, 1978
Attack type
Mass murder, spree killing, shooting attack
Weapons Various weapons, possible grenade
Deaths 48 (38 civilians including 13 children,[1] 1 Israeli soldier, 9 attackers)
Non-fatal injuries
71 wounded.[1]
Perpetrator 11 Palestinian assailants. The Palestine Liberation Organization claimed responsibility.

The Coastal Road massacre of 1978 was an attack involving the hijacking of a bus on Israel's Coastal Highway in which 38 Israeli civilians, including 13 children, were killed, and 71 were wounded.[1][2] The attack was planned by Abu Jihad[3] and carried out by the PLO faction Fatah. The plan was to seize a luxury hotel in Tel Aviv and take tourists and foreign ambassadors hostage in order to exchange them for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.[4] According to a Fatah commander who had helped to plan the attack, the timing was aimed at scuttling the Israeli-Egyptian peace talks between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat and damaging tourism in Israel.[5][6] However, due to a navigation error, the attackers ended up 40 miles (64 km) north of their target, and were forced to find alternative transportation to their destination.[5]

Time magazine magazine characterized it as "the worst terrorist attack in Israel's history."[6] Fatah called the hijacking "Operation of the Martyr Kamal Adwan",[7] after the PLO chief of operations killed in the Israeli commando raid on Beirut in April 1973.[8][9] In response, the Israeli military forces launched Operation Litani against PLO bases in Lebanon three days later.

The attack


On March 9, 1978, 13 Palestinian militants from Fatah including Dalal Mughrabi left Lebanon on a boat headed for the Israeli coastline. They were equipped with a stash of Kalashnikov rifles, rocket propelled grenades, light mortars and high explosives. On March 11, they transferred to two Zodiac boats and headed towards the shore. One of the Zodiacs capsized in the rough weather, and two of the militants drowned, but the surviving 11 carried on with their mission.[10][11] The militants landed on a beach near the kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, north of Tel Aviv. They met American photographer Gail Rubin, who was taking nature photographs on the beach, and asked her where they were. After she told them, they killed her.[5] Both surviving attackers claimed that Mughrabi shot Rubin.[12]

Bus hijacking

They then walked less than a mile up to the four-lane highway, opened fire at passing cars, and hijacked a white Mercedes taxi, killing its occupants.[6] Setting off down the highway toward Tel Aviv, they hijacked a chartered bus carrying Egged bus drivers and their families on a day outing, along the Coastal Highway. During the ride, the militants shot and threw grenades at passing cars, shot at the passengers and threw at least one body out of the bus. At one point they commandeered Bus 901, traveling from Tel Aviv to Haifa, and forced the passengers from the first bus to board it.[6]

At one point, the bus stopped, and one of the militants got out and fired directly into a passing car, killing a teenager, Omri Tel-Oren, and injuring his father Hanoch. Sharon Tel-Oren, Omri's mother, testified: "We were in our station wagon, driving along the coastal highway. We saw something odd ahead – a bus, but it seemed to be stopped. Then we saw someone lying on the road. There was shattered glass all over, children screaming. Then we heard the gunshots. Omri was asleep in the back seat. The bullet passed though the front seat and hit his head, killing him instantly. My husband was shot in the arm, and lost the movement in his fingers."[13][14]

Israeli police were alerted to the attack, and police cars caught up to the bus and began trailing it. Although the militants fired at the pursuing police cars, policemen did not return fire, fearing they would hit the civilians inside the bus.[15] Police quickly set up a roadblock, but the militants plowed the bus through it and continued their journey. According to Khaled Abu Asba, one of the two surviving attackers, police set up multiple roadblocks, and there was an exchange of fire at every intersection.[11]

Standoff at the Glilot Junction

The bus was finally stopped by a large police roadblock set up at the Glilot Junction near Herzliya, which included nails planted on the road to puncture the bus' tires.[6][10] Due to the speed at which the attack was transpiring, Israeli counter-terrorism squads had been unable to mobilize quickly enough, and the roadblock was manned by ordinary patrolmen and traffic policemen, who were lightly armed in comparison to the militants and untrained in dealing with hostage situations. According to the Israeli Police, Asaf Hefetz, then head of the Israeli Police counter-terrorism unit, arrived at the scene before his unit, and stormed the bus, killing two militants. Hefetz sustained a shoulder injury during the battle, and was later awarded the Israeli Police Medal of Courage.[16][17] A firefight erupted, and police broke the bus' windows and yelled at passengers to jump.[10] Escaping passengers were shot at by one of the terrorists.[6] Time Magazine speculated that more hostages may have been killed by the wild shooting of the "terrified" Israeli policemen than by the militants. Furthermore it was speculated that the firing may have driven some of the militants to commit suicide after killing as many passengers as possible.[5] The battle reached its climax when the bus exploded and burst into flames. The explosion may have been set off by a burning fuel tank, or by grenades. The Palestinians claimed that the Israelis destroyed the bus with fire from helicopter gunships.[18][19]

A total of 38 civilians were killed in the attack, 13 of them children, and 71 were wounded.[20] Of the 11 perpetrators, 9 were also killed.[15] Two of the perpetrators, Khaled Abu Asba and Hussein Fayyad, survived and were arrested. Both men spent seven years in prison, and were released in a 1985 prisoner exchange.[11][21]


Memorial near Glilot Interchange on the coastal Highway

The perpetrators

The PLO claimed responsibility for the attack, which was perpetrated by eleven Palestinians, including Dalal Mughrabi.


One motive for the attack from the PLO was to derail Egypt-Israel peace talks. In October 1976, Egypt, the PLO, and Syria were back in contact with each other, though temporarily, under Saudi auspices, at the Riyadh conference that year. In 1977 "...the United States appeared anxious to coordinate Arab approval of a Geneva peace conference, as well as the presence there of Palestinians, and most important, the cooperation of the Soviet Union."[56] Both the Egyptians and the Israelis were opposed to the possibility of a political settlement uniting of the Arabs with the Palestinians and the two super powers against Israel. "No less than Israelis, therefore, Sadat opposed the join US–USSR statement of October 1977. Not only did the statement put the Palestinian question on a par with the return of Egyptian territory, it almost meant a clear victory for Syrian pan-Arabism."[57] The US–USSR joint statement state the settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict would be based on: "an Israeli withdrawal from 'occupied territories' in 1967; the resolution of the Palestinian question, including insuring the 'legitimate rights' of the Palestinian people; the termination of the state of war; and the establishment of normal peaceful relations on the basis of mutual recognition of sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence."[58] Ultimately, America opted for an Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty as Anwar Sadat made a visit to Jerusalem in November 1977. In that treaty "the first item dropped was the question of Palestine as it had evolved through the United Nations; after that the US–USSR statement, and agreed upon Palestinian representation at the Geneva conference, were also dropped.".[59] Anwar Sadat's main concern was the territory of Sinai to be returned to Egypt from Israel.

Official reactions

Involved parties


  • Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin stated in a press conference that Israel "shall not forget the carnage" and added that "there was no need of this outrage to understand that a Palestinian state would be a mortal danger to our nation and our people."[60]

Palestinian territories PLO

  • The PLO official stated that "the operation stems from the firm belief of Fatah in the necessity of carrying on the armed struggle against the Zionist enemy within the occupied land."[61]
  •  Egypt: Egyptian president Anwar Sadat condemned the attack as "an irresponsible action" and indirectly appealed to Israel not to strike back.[62]
  •  United States: US president Jimmy Carter released a statement saying the attack was a "an outrageous act of lawlessness and senseless brutality. Criminal acts such as this advance no cause or political belief. They inspire only revulsion at the lack of respect for innocent human life."[61]


Israeli retaliation

In a statement to the press the following day, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin stated, "They came here to kill Jews. They intended to take hostages and threatened, as the leaflet they left said, to kill all of them if we did not surrender to their demands.... We shall not forget. And I can only call upon other nations not to forget that Nazi atrocity that was perpetrated upon our people yesterday."[63]

Speaking to the Knesset on March 13, Begin said, "Gone forever are the days when Jewish blood could be shed with impunity. Let it be known: Those who shed innocent blood shall not go unpunished. We shall defend our citizens, our women, our children. We shall sever the arm of iniquity."[64]

On March 15, three days after the massacre, Israel launched Operation Litani against PLO bases in southern Lebanon. The IDF spokesman stated, "The objective of the operation is not retaliation for the terrorists' crimes, for there can be no retaliation for the murder of innocent men, women and children – but to protect the state of Israel and its citizens from incursions of members of the Fatah and PLO, who use Lebanese territory in order to attack citizens of Israel."[65]

According to Augustus Richard Norton, professor of international relations at Boston University, the IDF military operation killed approximately 1,100 people, most of them Palestinian and Lebanese civilians.[66][67]

Palestinian glorification of hijackers

Palestinian Media Watch,[68] an Israeli NGO that monitors antisemitism and support for terrorism in Palestinian society, has cited examples of Palestinian media that regard Dalal Mughrabi as a heroine and role model.[69][70] A Hebron girls' school was briefly named in honor of Mughrabi but the name was changed after it emerged that USAID was funding the school. Her name has also been given to summer camps and both police and military courses.[71] In February 2011 Palestinian Media Watch exposed a pan-Arab feminist media campaign promoting Mughrabi as a role model for women in the Arab world.[72]

During the 2008 Israel-Hezbollah prisoner swap, Israel intended to transfer her body to Hezbollah, however DNA testing showed that it was not among the exhumed corpses.[73]

Several locations under Palestinian Authority control have been named after Mughrabi.[74]

Palestinian Media Watch reported that, in January 2012, official Palestinian Authority television, which is under the control of PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, rebroadcast a music video glorifying the attack. The words of the clip included: "We [PLO squad] set out on patrol from Lebanon; with no fear of death or the darkness of prison. On the coast [Dalal] Mughrabi's blood was shed, the color of [red] coral on [white] lemon flowers."[75]

In 2011, a summer camp "which took place under the auspices of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad" divided the children into three groups named after militants, and one group was named for Mughrabi.[76]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "1978, March 11. The Coastal Road Massacre" Richard Ernest Dupuy, Trevor Nevitt Dupuy (chamel). The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 B.C. to the Present, Harper & Row, 1986, ISBN 0-06-181235-8, p. 1362.
  2. "Operation Litani is launched in retaliation for that month's Coastal Road massacre." Gregory S. Mahler. Politics and Government in Israel: The Maturation of a Modern State, Rowman & Littlefield, 2004, ISBN 0-7425-1611-3, p. 259.
  3. "Israel's successful assassinations" (in Hebrew). MSN. Retrieved 2008-03-29. 
  4. Moshe Brilliant, "Israeli officials Say Gunmen Intended to Seize Hotel," The New York Times, March 13, 1978
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 "Tragedy of errors". Time magazine March 27, 1978. March 27, 1978.,9171,916011,00.html?promoid=googlep. Retrieved 2008-06-01. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 "A Sabbath of Terror", Time magazine, March 20, 1978.
  7. Edgar O'Ballance (1979). Language of Violence: The Blood Politics of Terrorism, p. 289, Presidio Press (Original from the University of Michigan), ISBN 0-89141-020-1, ISBN 978-0-89141-020-1
  8. "An Eye for an Eye". CBS. November 20, 2001. Retrieved 2001-11-21. 
  9. Greenaway, HDS, "Arab Terrorist Raid in Israel Kills 30", Washington Post, March 12, 1978.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 "This Week in History: Israel’s deadliest terror attack". The Jerusalem Post - Retrieved December 16, 2014. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 [ Coastal road terrorist: No apologies, Haaretz. According to Abu Absa, one of the surviving Palestinian perpetrators, Mughrabi was the only woman in the group and she was not the commander.
  12. "IMRA - Monday, August 4, 2008 MEMRITV: Fatah Terrorists Who Participated in a 1978 Attack Commanded by Dalal Al-Maghrabi Describe the Murder of U.S. Journalist Gail Rubin". Retrieved December 16, 2014. 
  13. The dolls' journey to Israel, Jerusalem Post
  14. "A flute now silent". August 24, 2005. Retrieved December 16, 2014. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Black, Ian (1992): Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services
  16. Interview with Assaf Hefetz. Maariv. 10.30.1984 (In Hebrew)
  17. Assaf Hefetz: Israeli Pplice Medal of Courage (In Hebrew)
  18. Kim Willenson, Milan J. Kubic and William E. Schmidt, "Slaughter in Israel," Newsweek, March 20, 1978
  19. Black, Ian; McLeod, Hugh (11 March 2010). "Israel-Hizbullah prisoner exchange: profiles". The Guardian.
  20. Deeb, Marius (July 2003). Syria's Terrorist War on Lebanon and the Peace Process. Palgrave McMillian. p. 39. ISBN 1-4039-6248-0. 
  21. "Terrorist who killed 38 Israelis appointed PA adviser". The Jerusalem Post - Retrieved December 16, 2014. 
  22. 22.00 22.01 22.02 22.03 22.04 22.05 22.06 22.07 22.08 22.09 22.10 22.11 22.12 22.13 22.14 22.15 22.16 22.17 22.18 22.19 22.20 22.21 22.22 22.23 22.24 22.25 22.26 22.27 22.28 22.29 22.30 "National Insurance Institute, HomePage". Retrieved December 16, 2014. 
  23. רויטל טלי אהרונוביץ ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  24. נעמי אליחי ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  25. ארז אלפנד ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  26. יצחק אלפנד ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  27. גלית אנקווה ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  28. יצחק איציק אנקווה ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  29. חביב אנקווה ז"ל  NII (Hebrew)
  30. מטילדה מטי אשכנזי דניאל ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  31. יהודה בסטרמן ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  32. רינה בושקניץ ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  33. דב בושקניץ ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  34. ליאת גלאון ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  35. שמעון גלוטמן ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  36. אמנון דרורי ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  37. נעמה הדני ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  38. אילן הוכמן ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  39. רועי הוכמן ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  40. רבקה הוכמן ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  41. מרדכי מוטי זית ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  42. יוסף חלואני ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  43. מלכה טוני ליבוביץ וייס ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  44. ציונה לוזיה כהן ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  45. אברהם לוזיה ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  46. אוטרי מנשרוב ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  47. יואב יואבי משקל ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  48. טוביה רוזנר ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  49. "Gail Rubin". Retrieved December 16, 2014. 
  50. גייל רובין ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  51. מאיר סגל ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  52. קטיה רינה סוסינסקי ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  53. יוסף סוסינסקי ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  54. צבי צביקה עשת ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  55. אמרי תל-אורן ז"ל  (Hebrew)
  56. Said, Edward (1992). The Question of Palestin. Vintage Books. p. 201. 
  57. Said, Edward (1992). The Question of Palestine. Vintage Books. p. 201. 
  58. Khouri, Fred. The Arab-Israeli Dilemma. pp. 397–398. 
  59. Said, Edward (1992). The Question of Palestin. Vintage Books. p. 202. 
  60. The Telegraph-Herald – Google News Archive Search
  61. 61.0 61.1 Reading Eagle – Google News Archive Search
  62. The Pittsburgh Press – Google News Archive Search
  63. "Statement to the press by Prime Minister Begin on the massacre of Israelis on the Haifa – Tel Aviv Road". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. March 12, 1978. Retrieved April 18, 2010. 
  64. "Statement to the Knesset by Prime Minister Begin on the terrorist raid and the Knesset resolution". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. March 13, 1978. Retrieved April 18, 2010. 
  65. "Israel Defense Forces statement on the operation in Lebanon". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. March 15, 1978. Retrieved April 18, 2010. 
  66. Augustus Richard Norton; Jillian Schwedler (1993). "(In)security Zones in South Lebanon". University of California Press. pp. 61–79. Digital object identifier:10.1525/jps.1993.23.1.00p0030t. JSTOR 2537858. 
  67. Israeli Violations of Human Rights of Lebanese Civilians. B'Tselem. 2000. pp. 12–13. 
  68. "Palestinian Media Watch web site". 
  69. Special report # 39: Palestinian Culture and Society (Study No. 6 -March 12, 2002) "Encouraging Women Terrorists" by Itamar Marcus,, accessed July 24, 2008
  70. ""Case study: Dalal Mughrabi from terrorist to hero", Palestinian Media Watch web site, accessed 2/21/2012". 
  71. accessed July 23, 2008
  72. Marcus, Itamar; Zilberdik, Nan Jacques (February 13, 2011). "UN asks PMW to publicize that UN was not behind Arab media campaign presenting terrorist as role model". Palestine Media Watch. Retrieved February 15, 2011. 
  73. 32 Years Since Coast Road Attack – Defense/Middle East – News – Israel National News
  74. Incitement is not one-sided – JPost – Opinion – Op-Eds
  75. "PMW Bulletins".,. Retrieved December 16, 2014. 
  76. "PA summer camp names children's group after Dalal Mughrabi - Palestinian Daily News". Retrieved December 16, 2014. 

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