Equal Justice Under Law

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As I write these words, my heart is heavy with pain.  A convoy of buses is now making its way from Ayalon Prison, carrying 550 Palestinian prisoners due to be released as part of Israel’s deal with Hamas that has freed the captured Israel Defense Forces soldier, Gilad Shalit. These prisoners make up the second wave, following the 440 who were released in October, and will be returning home to Jerusalem, the West Bank (Judea and Samaria, if you will) and Gaza, where they will, no doubt, receive a hero’s welcome.

I have been told by an Israeli official that all have been involved in acts of terrorism and that some, no doubt, were involved in the murder and maiming of American citizens. This is beyond infuriating to me, not because American blood is any redder than Israeli blood, but because American laws for dealing with such matters have been completely ignored.

The United States’ anti-terrorism statute, passed in 1990, states that any time an American has been killed or wounded in a terrorist attack anywhere around the globe, the federal government has the right to seek out the suspect, and bring him or her to these shores to face justice.

Among the first wave of released prisoners in the Shalit deal was Ahlam Tamimi. On August 9, 2001, Ms. Tamimi planned and helped to execute the bombing of the Sbarro’s pizzeria in the center of Jerusalem. We know that at least two American citizens were killed during this attack: Judith Greenbaum, 31, from Passaic, New Jersey, and Malki Roth, 15, from Queens, New York.

In a taped interview that Ms. Tamimi gave while in prison, she confessed to the crime and said that if given the opportunity, she would not hesitate to do it again. When told that her act was responsible for the deaths of eight children, a smile of deep satisfaction came across her face.

Ms. Tamimi is currently in Jordan, where she is widely recognized as a hero and is on the lecture circuit. The United States has an extradition treaty with Jordan, and should demand her extradition.

On September 8, 2003, an emergency room doctor at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, David Applebaum, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, took his daughter Nava, out for a father-daughter dinner at Café Hillel in the capital’s trendy Emek Refaim neighborhood. The dinner was special: Nava was to be married the very next day. David was known to be a quintessential mensch, always the first to arrive in the emergency room after a disaster or suicide bombing, even when he wasn’t “on call.”  When the suicide bomber entered Café Hillel and blew himself up, everyone wondered why David hadn’t come running immediately to the emergency room to help out. That was because David and Nava were among the dead. Ibraham Dar Musa, who planned the Café Hillel bombing,  was one of those released last October.

There are approximately 54 cases of American citizens who have been killed and 83 of Americans who have been injured by Palestinian terrorists since the singing of the Oslo Accords. The United States government seems to be treating them as invisible, disposable Americans, mere pawns on a political chessboard.

On May 8, 2001, my friends Sherri and Seth Mandell, originally from Silver Spring, Maryland, suffered an unspeakable loss. Their son, Koby, and his friend, Yoseph Ishran, decided to play hooky from school. When they did not return home that evening, their families were incredibly worried. Koby’s and Yoseph’s bodies were found the next day, brutally dismembered, in a cave outside their families’ community of Tekoa, Israel. The boys had been stoned to death.

In those days, I had been working on a law to give the Justice Department primary responsibility for rendering justice on terrorists who had killed American citizens overseas. Prior to that, the State Department had handled such matters. I felt that the State Department was primarily concerned with politics and diplomacy, not justice. By changing the address, we had felt there might be a greater chance of securing justice for victims and their families that wasn’t contaminated by diplomatic or political factors.

I had called Sherri Mandell while she was sitting shiva. What do you say to a woman who has just lost her first-born son, her bechor, so brutally? So, I told her about the bill that I was working on, and asked if she would like it to be named for Koby.

I will never forget her response. In fact, her voice is still ringing in my ears. She said, with a tinge of joy, “I could just see Koby jumping up and down in heaven to have a law named after him.”

I thought to myself, “Sweetheart, it is a long way before a bill becomes a law.” I vowed to myself that I would not rest until it happened. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in December 2004.

In May 2005, the Office of Victims of Overseas Terrorism was opened in the Department of Justice. The office lists on its website that it was established “to ensure that the investigation and prosecution of terrorist attacks that result in deaths and/or injuries of American citizens overseas remain a high priority within the Department of Justice.”

The office takes special credit for the seizure and indictment of an Indonesian murderer of one Christian missionary. However, when reading the law, it is clear that the legislative intent of the bill was to address a specific population of Americans who were either studying in, touring in, or living in Israel at the time, the office has not brought a single Palestinian terrorist to justice on these shores. Vicki Eisenfeld of West Hartford, Connecticut, — whose son Matthew, a Yale University graduate, was killed together with his girlfriend, Sara Drucker,  a graduate of Barnard College, on Jerusalem bus number 18 — once confided in me, “It makes me feel that my son’s blood is less American.”

I spend a great deal of time on Capitol Hill, and when I walk between the House side and the Senate side, I see the Supreme Court. Etched on top of the beautiful building are the words, “Equal Justice Under Law.”

Therein lies my profound indignation and sadness.

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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