Whether Boston, Mumbai or Jerusalem, Terrorism is Terrorism

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(A version of this article appeared in the print edition of the Washington Jewish Week)

Every person who has any sort of a conscience, what-so-ever, had to be deeply disturbed by the horrific events in Boston, last week.  Here were family members and friends, gathered to cheer one another on in the annual marathon, a yearly spring “happening” in that city.

This year’s marathon will forever be remembered for the senseless, dastardly act of terrorism , that resulted in the loss of three lives, scarred the nation and might have an indelible effect on how public gatherings and sports events will be conducted in this country from now on.

All of this seems very familiar to those of us who have been tightly linked to Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism. There seems to be a predictable psychological cycle to how family members, loved ones and the victims, themselves, (if they have been fortunate enough to have survived), respond to acts of terror. First there is the earth-shattering shock; then when people have had a chance to come to grips with the event, there is a profound, palpable sadness. It often is sadness so deep that one never totally recovers from it. Then, there is this anger at the total senselessness of it. And for some, who have not been so shattered that they have had their spirits totally broken, there is the quest for justice.

How do I know so much about this? Because as an advocate for the state of Israel, I have been working for over twenty years with family members who have lost loved ones to Palestinian terrorism, and have tried to help, at least the American victims who are entitled to American justice.

Whether one is out eating pizza in a restaurant in Jerusalem with one’s family, a child riding on a school bus on his way to school in Haifa, an adult in his car on his way to work on highway one that extends through Jerusalem to Moadin, a teenager out dancing in a discothèque in Tel Aviv on Friday night, a student eating lunch at the cafeteria of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the pattern seems all too familiar, and the acts are just as random and just as senseless.

Each of the stories have gripped me anew with profound sadness. There is the story of Doctor David Applebaum, who on September 3, 2003, took his daughter out to the Hillel Café in Emek Rafaim, Jerusalem the night before what was to have been her wedding day. There was an explosion in the restaurant. The hospital where David worked sprung into full rear. David, who headed up the emergency room in Sharei Tzedek Hospital was usually the first one to show up at such occasions, and the doctors were surprised when he didn’t appear. That night, Dr. Applebaum, who had operated on dozens of victims of terror, and his daughter, Nava on the eve of her wedding, were themselves, fatalities of Palestinian terror.

And there was 13 year old, Koby Mandell of Silver Spring, Maryland, who on May 8, 2001, did the Huck Finn thing together with his friend, Yisef Ishran, and skipped school to go on a hike in the caves near their community of Takoa, Israel. Unfortunately, the punishment did not fit the crime.

When Koby and Yosef did not return home that evening, their parents began to worry. Their bodies had been found so brutally mangled that they had to use dental records to identify the records.

I had known Sherri, Koby’s mother, from Silver Spring.  I knew I had to call her while she was sitting shiva.  What does one say when to comfort a grieving mother, who had just lost her bachor, her first born son, under the worst conditions imagineable.

I decided to tell her the truth. I told her that I was working on a bill to take the issue of justice for Americans who have been killed or injured abroad, away from the State Department, whose primary mission is diplomacy, and to put it in the Department of justice, whose primary mission is justice.

I will never forget what Sherri said. Her 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”.

I thought to myself, “Sweetheart, it is a long way before a bill becomes a law.” But I vowed to myself, then, that I would not rest until that law was passed. It took many years, but the bill was signed into law in December of 2004. In May of 2005, the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism was opened up in the Justice Department.

It says on their website that the mission of this office is to “ensure that the investigation and prosecution of terrorist attacks that result in deaths and/or injuries of American citizens overseas remains a high priority within the Department of Justice.”

Unfortunately, there have been scores of Koby Mandells and David and Nava Appelbaums. Not one American victim of Palestinian terrorism has ever received the pursuit of justice under the law that every American citizen deserves.

It is important to understand that terrorism is terrorism. It is simply never justifiable.  Whether committed by Al Qaeda, Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah or Ansar al Islam, once someone starts talking about “understanding the root cause”, it provides them with a rationale and opens the door for more of these heinous acts against free people, anywhere around the globe.

There are some within our corridors of power in Washington that have been making the distinction between terrorism against innocent American citizens in Israel taking a class at Hebrew University, or riding a bus, and those in the United States. This is a distinction without a difference. In the minds of the Islamic terrorists, who hate both “the Great Satan”, (America), and “The Minor Satan” (Israel), equally, each act of terrorism against citizens of either nation only serves to empower the terrorist, and to reinforce them to commit more such heinous acts.

Whether in Boston, Mumbai or Jerusalem, every citizen deserves what is etched on the façade of our Supreme Court, “Equal Justice Under the Law.”

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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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