On Thursday, February 18th, while shopping for groceries in a neighborhood store, 21-year-old Tuvia Yanai Weissman was murdered by Palestinian terrorists, leaving behind his beautiful, young wife, Yael, and his 4 month old daughter, Netta. That makes Tuvia the 65th American, not including two unborn babies, who has been murdered by Palestinian terrorists since the signing of the Oslo Accord on September 13, 1993.
How much pain can a single heart hold? In each one of these 65 cases, the pain is immeasurable and extends throughout families, friends and communities. For the survivors and their family members, it leaves an irreparable void in one of the chambers of their hearts that simply can never be filled. As Arnold Roth, whose beautiful 15-year-old daughter, Malki was killed by a suicide bomber when she went to eat pizza at the Sbarro restaurant, had told me, “Graduations, weddings, births…even looking at the slippers next to Malki’s bed that she will never again wear….The way you look at things will never be the same.”
And, with this latest round of knifings and vehicular attacks, we all know that this can happen to any one of us at any time, while living, studying, working or vacationing in Israel.
What compounds all of this grief and pain is a lack of justice, coming from the government of the United States. According to American law, this simply should not be the case.
The United States has an anti-terrorism law from 1991 that states that any time an American citizen is killed or injured overseas by terrorists, the United States has the right to seize the suspect, indict him, bring him to America to be prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished, to the full extent of the law. We also have an office, the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OVT), within the Department of Justice (DOJ) whose responsibility it is to be an advocate for the families of Americans who have been killed or injured overseas by terrorists.
When it was first opened, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said that “prosecuting terrorists for their attacks on Americans are and shall continue to be a high priority.” Mr. Gonzales added that “this new office guarantees a voice for victims and their families in the investigation and prosecution of terrorists who prey on Americans overseas,” and “our commitment to these victims is as strong as our dedication to bringing these terrorist attackers to justice.”
Yet not a single terrorist who has been implicated in the murder of an America citizen in Israel or Judea and Samaria post-Olso has ever been brought to America’s shores for prosecution.
I feel somewhat responsible for helping to create this enormous travesty of justice. For it was my work over a great many years, expanding into two different positions with two different Jewish organizations, that, with the help of Congress, led to the opening of this office within the DOJ.
In 2001, Koby Mandell, a son of my friends, Sherri and Seth Mandell, originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, experienced every parent’s worst nightmare. Their son, together with his Israeli friend, Yoseph Ishran, did the Huck Finn thing and played hooky from school. However, the punishment far exceeded the crime. When their sons did not return home from school, the parents began to worry. Their bodies were found so brutally mangled in a cave outside of their community of Tekoa, Israel that they had to use dental records to identify the boys.
I knew that I had to call Sherri while she was sitting shiva, and I was wondering what I could possibly say to try to comfort a woman whose first born son, her bachor, had been killed in such a brutal and inhumane way. I told her the truth. I told her that the ZOA, the organization I was working for at the time, was helping to craft legislation with the goal of removing the entire issue of justice for Americans killed or injured overseas away from the State Department, which is primarily responsibility for diplomacy, to the Justice Department. Our reasoning was that if “Justice” was the name on the door, there would be less of a chance that the pursuit of justice would become contaminated by diplomatic or political factors.
I asked Sherri if she would like it if the bill were named in memory of Koby. I can never forget her response; the sound of it is still ringing in my ears. “I could just see Koby jumping up and down in heaven to have a law named for him,” Sherri replied.
I thought to myself, “Sweetheart, it’s a long way before a bill becomes a law.” But the sound of that fleeting note of happiness in Sherri’s voice made me vow that I would not rest until that bill was passed into law and signed by the president.
I left the ZOA in 2003, and went to work for a different pro-Israel organization. When I interviewed for the job, I told the organization that my one condition upon being hired was that I be allowed to continue lobbying for this bill. They agreed, but told me that because this organization was divided over issues having to do with Palestinian compliance, that I had to do it “under the radar.”
The bill went through many renditions, and was finally passed as part of an Omnibus Appropriations bill and signed into law by President George W. Bush in December of 2004. In May of 2005, the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism was opened in the Department of Justice.
I called Sherri and Seth Mandell, and we had a transatlantic celebratory toast.
But this proved to be a rather pyrrhic victory.
Almost 11 years ago, I started my own organization, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, or EMET, which is an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, DC. One of the many issues we follow closely is that of Americans who have been murdered or injured by Palestinian terrorists, and the complete lack of the rigorous pursuit of justice under US law.
The most notorious case is that of Ahlam Tamimi, who openly takes credit for the planning and execution of the Sbarro Pizza Restaurant in Jerusalem in which 15 people were murdered, including 8 children. Of these 15, two were Americans; Judith Greenbaum, who was pregnant at the time, and 15-year-old Malki Roth.
Tamimi now resides in Amman, where she has a weekly Hamas-sponsored television show, which is broadcasted throughout the world. She is treated like a veritable hero in many quarters of the Muslim and Arab world.
We at EMET believe that this lack of justice by the American government sends precisely the wrong message to would-be terrorists around the globe about the value America places on her citizens. We believe that this only encourages further acts of terrorism against innocent civilians.
EMET also believes that when we do not demand justice for our most vulnerable, something is lost within our moral fiber, as a nation. And that a failure to prosecute these Islamist terrorists contributes to a growing sense of impunity, invincibility, and triumphalism on their part, against the West.
This has led us to encourage Members of Congress and Senators, on four separate occasions, to write to Attorney General Eric Holder about the issue. One letter had no fewer than 54 bipartisan signatures on it.
The responses that these Members of Congress have gotten back from the DOJ, when they did receive responses at all, were risible. One actually complained that they never wanted to have this office in the DOJ to begin with (although it was formed through an act of law).
Thanks in large part to EMET’s efforts, on November 4, 2015, a Senate Subcommittee, led by Senator Ted Cruz (Republican, Texas), held a hearing on Iranian funded Palestinian terrorism and civil law suits.
On February 2nd of this year, due again, in large part to the encouragement of EMET, the National Security Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, led by Chairman Ron DeSantis (Republican, Florida), and Minority Chair Stephen Lynch (Democrat, Massachusetts), held a hearing on precisely this issue.
We at EMET are profoundly grateful to Chairman DeSantis, Minority Chair Lynch, and also to Congressman Mark Meadows (Republican, North Carolina), for their obvious compassion to the victims. We also thank them for their strenuous line of questioning to the Department of Justice official present at the hearing, demanding that the responsibilities outlined in the implementation memo when the OVT was first launched over 10 years ago be addressed in a memo to the Committee that is to be received within 120 days.
EMET fervently hopes that this pressure on the Department of Justice will finally result in the indictment, prosecution and punishment of terrorists, such as Ahlam Tamimi, who is now feeling on top of the world, and that she can, literally, get away with murder.
We will not rest until that happens.