Sometimes the people we meet in life turn out to be truly extraordinary. Reuven Hazak was one of those people. We worked together in Israel on security matters and he seemed to be a good man — very knowledgeable, competent and totally trustworthy. I apparently was the last person in the country to learn that he was also the hero of the infamous Bus 300 Affair.
As the Deputy Chief of Shin Bet — Israel’s equivalent of the FBI — Reuven was put in a difficult position when four Arab terrorists hijacked the bus on Line 300 from Tel Aviv. Its passengers were held hostage until Israeli security officers stormed the bus and took it over. Two of the hijackers were killed in the shoot-out. The other two men were taken off the bus, with one of them shown in the photo above. Then those two surviving hijackers were killed by Shin Bet officers. All evidence in the case was immediately suppressed by high government officials, and it was announced that all four men had died when the bus was stormed.
Reuven objected to this flagrant abuse of constitutional law, believing it was put there to protect good people as well as those who did bad deeds. That the hijackers deserved trial, imprisonment and possibly execution was not in doubt. But he didn’t feel vigilante justice and government cover-up was the right course of action. Reuven was forced out of his position at Shin Bet over this controversy. In 1997 the affair and Reuven’s role in it was made into a mini-series shown on Israeli television.
My only excuse for not knowing these things when they happened was that I was not in-country at the time. And even when all of this came out, I had no idea of its significance. Then one day things changed.
I was in the airport at Tel Aviv preparing for departure, and was completely resigned to going through the detailed and onerous security screening for which Israel was famous. The efficient-looking young man who was to do the screening told me to follow him to an examining table. There he hoisted my one piece of luggage onto the work space and unzipped the case. At that moment Reuven Hazak walked across the airport, called out my name, and said he had just come to see me off. He asked if everything was all right.
The young man at the screening table just stood there with his eyes as big as saucers. He couldn’t have been more stunned if Moses had walked over to him carrying stone tablets. In answer to Reuven’s question he said, “Everything is fine here!” And zipped the suitcase shut without looking at it, then cleared it for boarding.
What struck me most about all of this was that Reuven was already “retired” from Shin Bet. He wore no uniform to show a lofty rank, nor a name tag to identify who he was. But he was known. He was respected. And if he said something was all right, then it was all right.
It is sometimes said that we all aspire, even if only to a modest degree, to earn respect and maybe an occasional honor for what we do. But to live in a country where you are respected everywhere? I learned on that day what real respect and honor means.