Friday, June 06, 2008

6-Jun-08: A mathematical miscalculation

The article below, written by one of this blog's two authors, appears in today's international edition of Haaretz. Also online on the Keren Malki website.

A mathematical miscalculationBy Frimet Roth

Prof. David Mumford is exceptionally talented. The fact that he received the Wolf Prize for mathematics in the Knesset last week is testimony to that. It is the second most prestigious honor in the field after the Nobel Prize and was presented to him by President Shimon Peres.

But when Mumford, professor emeritus at Brown University in the United States, announced what he intends to do with his share of the prize money, he left me wondering about his other attributes. He will hand over his award of $33,333 to Bir Zeit University (BZU) in Ramallah, and to Gisha, an Israeli organization that advocates easing travel restrictions on Palestinian students.

Mumford professed familiarity with BZU, owing to a visit there four years ago. Yet that was apparently not followed up by the sort of research you would expect from a mathematician. Had that been done, facts would have surfaced that I hope would have sent Mumford searching elsewhere for beneficiaries.

Mumford justified his choice thus: "I am very grateful for the prize, but I believe that Palestinian students should have an opportunity to go elsewhere to acquire an education." He added, "Students in the West Bank and Gaza today do not have an opportunity to do that." He claimed that this situation contrasts "strikingly" with conditions in Israel where students are able "to travel freely to meetings and graduate students go wherever they please."

That may be true for some, but Mumford seems unaware that many Israeli students have not only been denied a higher education overseas; they have been denied any higher education at all.

My daughter, Malki, for example, did not even graduate high school. She was murdered on August 9, 2001 along with 14 others in Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant. Malki was a gifted flautist and might have become a serious musician. She was devoted to children with disabilities and was considering a career as a physiotherapist.

The loss of my child causes me pain that has not subsided, and never will.

The very university Mumford wants to nurture played a pivotal role in shattering Malki's beautiful life and dreams. Two of the perpetrators of the Sbarro massacre, Ahlam Tamimi and Mahmud Wail Daglas, were from Bir Zeit University. They equipped, enabled and instructed the suicide bomber, Izz al-Din Al-Masri, who detonated an explosives-filled guitar case enhanced with nails, bolts and shrapnel.

Daglas, a Fatah militant, was a communications student. He provided Al-Masri with a safe haven the night before the attack. But Tamimi, a communications student as well as a television news reader for the Palestinian Authority, was the linchpin of this atrocity. She carried Al-Masri's guitar case with her in a taxi. Aged 23, in Western-style dress and chatting in English, she aroused no suspicion as she passed freely through the Qalandiyah checkpoint into Jerusalem. Thus Al-Masri, who exited the taxi a little earlier, was able to approach the checkpoint empty-handed. He sailed through Israeli security.

In this region, the freedom of movement Mumford is advocating has spelled the murder of hundreds of Israeli children in the past eight years.

After the checkpoint, Al-Masri got back into the taxi and rode with Tamimi to the walls of the Old City. From there they walked to the center of West Jerusalem. At the main intersection of Jaffa Road and King George Avenue stood Sbarro's. It is obvious why Tamimi had selected that location as the target: It was filled mostly with women and children on that sweltering summer afternoon.

Tamimi is now serving 16 consecutive life sentences. She was captured on film recently, smiling prettily on learning that among her victims were eight Jewish children. This was three more than she had presumed.

Yihye Ayyash is another BZU alumnus about whom Mumford probably learned nothing on his visit to the university. Ayyash demonstrated electrical and mechanical talent as a child. In 1991 he graduated from BZU with a degree in electrical engineering. He proceeded to fabricate the bombs used in a string of Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror attacks which killed 90 innocent Israelis. As a side-line, he advanced the technique of suicide bombings.

After topping Israel's most-wanted list for three years, Ayyash was assassinated by the country's security forces in 1996.

It is no accident that BZU has produced at least five terrorists. During student elections there in 2003, Hamas candidates reenacted suicide bombings by blowing up models of Israeli buses, while in a campus debate one of them boasted: "Hamas activists in this university have killed 135 Zionists."

Mumford purports that his gift dovetails with the aims of the Wolf Prize. "I felt very much that I was really carrying out the spirit of Wolf's own wishes," he said, "to further education in all the areas of Palestine."

Really? According to its Web site, the Wolf Prize endeavors to advance "friendly relations among peoples." The track record of BZU offers little evidence of "friendly relations" with Israel. Terrorism is its cup of tea. And Prof. Mumford is its newest financier.

Frimet Roth is a freelance writer in Jerusalem. She and her husband founded the Malki Foundation ( in their daughter's memory, which provides support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child

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