Plenty of Culpability to Go Around

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Three Israeli teenagers, Gil-ad Shaer, 16, Eyal Yifrach, 19 and Naftali Frankel, 16, a dual American-Israeli citizen have been missing for almost two weeks now. With the entire nation of Israel, I stand in solidarity with the families, in anguish, in fear of what might have become of them, in hope and in prayer for their safe return. But above all, I am enraged.

I am enraged because I know that, to a certain degree, my own American government is also to blame for this dastardly act. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords on September 13, 1993, at least 58 Americans (that we know of) have been wounded or killed as a result of Palestinian terror attacks in Israel or the disputed territories. However, never has a single Palestinian terrorist who harmed or killed an American citizen in Israel or Judea and Samaria been indicted, extradited or prosecuted within America.

When it is politically expedient, somehow we are able to find the suspects that maimed, kidnapped or murdered American citizens. Last week, for example, Ahmed Abu Khattala — a ringleader of the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya — was apprehended, and brought onto a U.S. warship, where he is awaiting transfer to the U.S. to be tried in a federal court in Washington.

Upon Abu Khattala’s capture, U.S. President Barack Obama said, “It is important for us to send a message to the world that when Americans are attacked, no matter how long it takes, we will find those responsible and bring them to justice.”

Under the Antiterrorism Act of 1990, the U.S. can indict, extradite and prosecute any terrorist on U.S. shores who has harmed or killed an American citizen anywhere around the globe. Furthermore, under the Koby Mandell Act (which was passed by Congress and signed into law by then-President George W. Bush in 2004), the Justice Department has established the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism. This office’s primary responsibility is to be an advocate within the Justice Department for American victims of international terrorism, but the Justice Department has sorely violated its legislative intent.

Upon the opening of the office in the Justice Department in May 2005, then-Attorney-General Alberto Gonzales stated that “this new office guarantees a voice for victims and their families in the investigation and prosecution of terrorists who prey on Americans overseas.” Gonzales added that “our commitment to these victims is as strong as our dedication to bringing those terrorist attackers to justice.”

Obviously, neither the commitment nor the desire were all that strong. For the last 20 years, since the signing of the Oslo Accords, I have watched as family members of Americans killed while living in, studying in or simply visiting Israel have been psychologically and emotionally abused by our own government.

In May, 2001, my friend Sherri Mandell experienced every mother’s worst nightmare when her 13-year-old son Koby, together with his friend Yosef Ishran, did not return home from school. Unfortunately, her worst fears materialized. The boys’ bodies were later found, having been stoned to death by Palestinian terrorists. The bodies were so brutally disfigured that they could only be identified by dental records.

At that point I was working on legislation aimed at taking the entire issue of Americans who had been murdered or maimed abroad out of the State Department’s hands. Aside from their obvious, long standing biases when it came to the Jewish state, I had reasoned that the State Department’s mission is diplomacy, and put it into the Justice Department. I reasoned that perhaps without the contaminating factors of politics and diplomacy there would be more of a chance for pure, rigorous pursuit of justice.

When my friend Sherri was mourning her son’s death, I knew that I had to call her. But I was anxious about making the call. What does one say to a mother who is grieving her first born son? I decided to tell her the truth. I told her about the bill I had been working on, and asked her if I should name it in memory of Koby. I will never forget what she said in response. In fact, the words are still ringing in my ears. “I can just see Koby jumping up and down in heaven to have a law named after him,” she stated.

I knew there was a long way to go before the bill became a law, but I also knew that I would not rest until it happened. I would do anything to help comfort my grieving friend whose son had died in such a horrific way.

The Office for Justice of Overseas Terrorism has been operational for nine years now. When it was first opened, I called Sherri and Seth to celebrate. But the victory was a hollow one.

In all the time since it was established, the office has pursued justice for the murder of only one person, Rick Spier, a Christian missionary killed in Indonesia. Anyone who reads the floor speech by Senator Gordon Smith on the day it was introduced in the Senate, and the “findings” section of the law, would immediately understand that this stature is specifically designed to ensure that the Palestinian terrorists who harm or murder American citizens are brought to justice by our courts.

Not only is this travesty of justice immoral, it sends the distinct message to would-be terrorists around the globe that we really are not all that serious about the safety and security of American citizens, and that certain Americans are more deserving of justice than others. We have done this to promote the delusion that Fatah is the “good cop” and Hamas in the “bad cop,” and that there really is someone reasonable for Israel to talk to on the other side of the negotiating table, while in fact Fatah has been responsible for much of the murder of American citizens.

Instead, they manipulated the emotions of some of the people who have lost loved ones by making occasional visits to their homes and asking them to please refrain from seeking legal action because they are constantly “very close” to capturing the killer of their son or daughter. When asked about the status of the investigation, they are routinely told that “because this is an ongoing investigation, we can’t talk about it.”

As Vicki Eisenfeld, the mother of Matthew Eisenfeld, a graduate of Yale University who lost his life when he and his fiance Sara Duker had the misfortune of boarding the wrong bus in Jerusalem, said, “It makes me feel like my son’s blood is less American.”

This is just one more way that the United States has abandoned its role as the moral leader of the world. Certainly, there is plenty of culpability to go around.

Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of EMET, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy shop in Washington.

Originally published at Israel Hayom at:

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

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