(February 4, 2016, Washington, DC) Today, the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET) expressed its deep appreciation to Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), the Chairman of the National Security Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, for holding an oversight hearing on the failure of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OJVOT) to pursue justice for American victims of Palestinian terrorism killed in Israel or the disputed territories. The hearing was called “Seeking Justice for Victims of Palestinian Terrorism in Israel” and was held on February 2nd, 2016. EMET originally brought this critical issue to the attention of Rep. DeSantis, and assisted the Subcommittee in providing background information and finding witnesses for the hearing.
Since 1991, the DOJ has refused to prosecute Palestinian terrorists who have killed or wounded Americans in Israel and Judea and Samaria, even though U.S. law gives American prosecutors the necessary tools to seek justice. In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism Act, 18 USC Sec. 2332, which requires the prosecution and punishment, in United States courts, of individuals who murder or maim American citizens in acts of international terrorism.
The witnesses for this hearing included: Sarri Singer, who was injured in a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem in June of 2003, and is the founder and director of Strength to Strength, an organization that supports victims of terrorism; Arnold Roth, whose daughter, Malka Roth, was murdered by a suicide bomber at a Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem in August of 2001; Peter Schwartz, whose nephew, Ezra Schwartz, was murdered by Palestinian terrorists while studying and volunteering in Israel in November of 2015; and Brad Wiegmann, the Deputy Assistant Attorney General, National Security Division, U.S. Department of Justice.
“Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 more than 64 Americans, [not] including 2 unborn children, have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Israel and the disputed territories,” DeSantis remarked in his opening statement, “[and] more than 10 years ago the memories of American victims of terrorism such as Koby [Mandell] and others provided inspiration for a bill bearing Koby’s name, which became the legislative source for the opening of the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism within the Department of Justice….” DeSantis added, “The Office was designed with the purpose of ensuring ‘that the investigation and prosecution of terrorist deaths of American citizens overseas are a high priority within the Department of Justice’…Yet 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 is not what the American people want. And this does not provide the justice to the victims’ families that has been so tragically elusive.”
EMET was proud to fly-in witness Arnold Roth from Israel to testify at the hearing. “In reaching out to the OVT and in our dealings with its officers and with the DOJ at large, there is no doubt we encountered unfailing courtesy and got respectful hearings. But it has to be said that tangible results have been in short supply. We have learned far more, for instance, over the past decade about our daughter’s killers from YouTube and Twitter than from updates received from the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism. To say it bluntly, I am sorry to report that there have been no updates,” Roth explained to the Subcommittee.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who does not sit on the Subcommittee, made it a point to attend the hearing. He was candid in his frustration that the OJVOT was not following its own guidelines and the law, and unrelenting in his questions to DOJ spokesperson Mr. Wiegmann. “What is the point of your office?” Rep. Meadows asked Mr. Wiegmann. Rep. Meadows proceeded to ask if a lack of funding was responsible for OJVOT’s zero accomplishments, and if there were political reasons the DOJ investigated terrorist attacks against Americans in other countries, but not in Israel. Finally, he stated: “You’re failing at part of your mission, Mr. Wiegmann.” “Can you put together a task force within DOJ that makes a commitment to all victims, not just the three that we have here today, to provide regular updates, to let them know what their rights are, to put it back in a brochure to make sure that every victim’s family gets something as a disclosure that says you can count on this…are you willing to commit today to get that available to the hundreds of victims that are out there and victims’ families and make a commitment to this Committee and to the Chairman and to the Ranking Member today?” Rep. Meadows asked.
It was Representative Meadows’ insistent line of questioning that led Mr. Wiegmann to agree to his request, and to provide a report back to the Subcommittee from the DOJ in 120 days to follow up on OJVOT’s progress.
EMET founder and President, Sarah Stern, was instrumental in the initial creation of the OJVOT in 2005. In the years since 2005, EMET has doggedly been working to educate Congress about the DOJ and the OJVOT’s unwillingness to do their job and make sure that any Palestinian terrorist who harms an American is brought to justice. EMET has held a staff briefing on Capitol Hill, bringing in American victims and family members. EMET has also met with more than 100 offices to explain this issue to them. EMET has worked with a bipartisan group of House members, and Senators, to produce numerous letters to the DOJ, demanding prosecutions of these terrorists, and also assisted in finding co-sponsors for these letters. And on November 4, 2015, thanks in large part to EMET’s tireless efforts, a Senate Subcommittee led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) held an oversight hearing, primarily focusing on Iranian funded Palestinian terrorism and civil lawsuits. EMET’s efforts culminated with the oversight hearing held by Chairman DeSantis.
EMET’s Sarah Stern praised Rep. Ron DeSantis and his colleagues for holding the oversight hearing, “I applaud Chairman DeSantis, Ranking Member Stephen Lynch, Rep. Mark Meadows, and the distinguished Members of the Subcommittee present at the hearing for their commitment and moral courage to hold responsible the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism for the lack of justice that has continued on for far too long.”
“It’s been too many years that the families of Americans have not received any justice. By sweeping the murder of American citizens under the rug, the U.S. government has sent out the message that America has become soft on terrorism. And this has only served to empower would-be terrorists around the globe with a feeling of invincibility. I am profoundly grateful that Congress has delivered the message that it will no longer tolerate the DOJ’s turning a blind eye toward US victims of Palestinian terrorism in Israel and the disputed territories. It is my hope that as a result of the hearing, the justice so sorely owed these American families will finally be served.”
Giving A Voice To The Voiceless
Press Release: EMET Thanks Rep. Ron DeSantis for His Courageous Hearing on Seeking Justice for American Victims of Palestinian Terrorism
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