On Nov. 19, 2015, 18-year-old Boston native Ezra Schwartz was murdered by Palestinian terrorists while on a gap year program in Israel. His uncle, Peter Schwartz, testified before Congress on Feb. 2, 2016, alongside other victims of Palestinian terrorism in front of the Oversight Subcommittee on National Security of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The hearing, titled “Seeking Justice for American Victims of Palestinian Terrorism in Israel,” was called to order by U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).
DeSantis, committee chairman, was made aware of the Department of Justice’s failure to prosecute Palestinian terrorists with American blood on their hands by the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a Washington, D.C. based think tank and policy shop. EMET’s founder and president Sarah Stern played a large role in creating the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism inside the DOJ. Stern helped pass the Koby Mandell Act in 2004, which required the DOJ to create an office to assist U.S. victims of overseas terrorism and pressure the DOJ to prosecute the terrorists that harmed Americans overseas; the OVT was subsequently established the next year. 13-year-old Israeli-American Koby Mandell and his friend Yosef Ishran were murdered by Palestinian terrorists in May 2001 while hiking in Israel. Their bodies were so disfigured that dental records were needed to identify the boys. Their killers have yet to be prosecuted by the DOJ.
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, more than 64 Americans not including two unborn children have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Israel and Judea and Samaria. Over 10 years have passed since the founding of the OVT and as DeSantis stated in his opening comments, “[The] DOJ has not been able to site one example for this Committee of even a single terrorist that has been prosecuted in the United States for any of the [more than] 64 attacks against Americans in Israel…This is not what Congress intended… this does not provide the justice to the victims’ families that has been so tragically elusive.”
Along with Peter Schwartz, Arnold Roth, whose 15 year old daughter Malki was murdered by a Palestinian suicide bomber in Jerusalem in 2001 and Sarri Singer, who was injured in a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem in 2003, were witnesses to the failure of the DOJ to prosecute the terrorists who had altered the course of their lives. Representing the DOJ at the hearing was Brad Wiegmann, the deputy assistant attorney general, National Security Division. Wiegmann read a laundry list of heartfelt sympathies to the victims of terrorism surrounding him, but then excused the OVT and DOJ from prosecuting Palestinian terrorism specifically, because “Israeli authorities have successfully investigated and prosecuted many individuals in connection with terrorist attacks that have harmed Americans.” In other words, the OVT does not have to do its job because someone else will, in this case, the Israeli government.
The intended purpose of the OVT is to pressure the DOJ to prosecute all terrorists who harm Americans overseas, regardless of whether or not the governments in question are capable of doing so.
This is all the more baffling considering that the act that propelled the office into existence was named after an American murdered in Israel, the very government that Wiegmann mentioned “[Has] a very capable and effective and aggressive prosecution regime, so a lot of those cases, prosecutions were brought by the Israelis and that’s the same as we would do here.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), took issue with Wiegmann’s justification for the DOJ’s inaction. “So as long as the Israelis do it, you’re fine?” he asked Wiegmann, who responded, “I’m just saying that if the Israelis were to sentence the attackers in that case to life sentences or adequate terms of imprisonment, that’s a way to protect our national security.” This raised some eyebrows in the room. Meadows then asked, “Who determines what’s adequate?”
Schwartz commented that while the U.S. government has been sympathetic to his family in expressing their condolences, “We are not aware what, if any, U.S. actions have been undertaken to investigate this case.” This is unacceptable. Sympathy is not enough. According to U.S. law, Americans are guaranteed certain rights and this includes seeking justice of any terrorist that harms them oversees.
The Department of Justice has failed the American people and specifically American victims of Palestinian terrorism. But thanks to EMET and some very courageous congressmen, these victims finally got their first day in court.