Nine years after the Sbarro massacre
By FRIMET ROTH
A version of this article was first published in the Jerusalem Post (online 9-Aug-10; print edition 10-Aug-10)
We, the bereaved families who feel the pain of terror every day must remind Israelis what 'releasing prisoners' for Gilad Schalit entails.
It's been nine years since my daughter Malki was murdered in the suicide bombing of Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant and terrorism denial is still rampant.
Foreign diplomats may still preface their complaints against Israel with the formulaic "Israel has some genuine security concerns and they have to be met." But after that obligatory line, most feel free to attack Israel with no holds barred.
Some of Israel's home-grown critics don't even bother with such political correctness. Our security is no longer a justified concern in their view and they have no compunction about saying so. Suicide bombers? Intifada? Israeli terror victims? Not in their history books.
Writing recently in Haaretz, columnist Merav Michaeli described a variety of possible solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Her conclusion? It is incumbent upon us to "want to live in peace. Not in security, but in peace." Her column was even entitled "Not in Security, but Peace" in case the message was not clear enough.
Terrorism denial is the foundation on which the Free Gilad Schalit campaign has been built. At some point, its legitimate effort to pressure all involved parties to free Schalit was hijacked. Today its goal is nothing short of maligning and undermining Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for his unwillingness to release every last prisoner demanded by Hamas.
This campaign could not have galvanized so many - some estimate 200,000 joined its eleven-day march to Jerusalem last month - without the groundwork laid by terrorism denial. Were the faces of the 1,000 innocent Israelis murdered during the second intifada still fresh in Israelis' minds, warnings about the dangers of a mass prisoner release would not be dismissed as casually and as persistently as they are being now.
The statistics are chilling. According to government numbers, some 45 percent of released terrorists return to terrorism, while the rate of recidivism among Hamas members is 63%. And yet these numbers impact fewer and fewer Israelis.
Instead we hear Mayor Yoel Levi of Ramle, in an address to the Schalit march participants, calling the warnings against a prisoner release "scaremongering".
And we hear Noam Schalit, Gilad’s father, refer to them as "doomsday scenarios from twenty-five years ago."
In the current climate of terrorism denial, such attitudes gain traction with ease. It is left to the bereaved families to fight this dangerous phenomenon. We, who feel the pain of terrorism every minute of every day, must remind Israelis what "releasing the prisoners" to free Gilad Schalit entails. We must refresh the short collective memory of who those prisoners are, what they did and what can we expect them to do in the future.
Ahlam Tamimi is one prisoner that Hamas wants freed. As a woman, she garners much sympathy for their cause. The mere mention of "woman" and "prison" in one sentence is a surefire tearjerker.
But here are the facts. Tamimi is a mega-terrorist. She is responsible for the deaths of fifteen men, women and children, all of them civilians. She transported 10 kg of explosives hidden in a guitar case into west Jerusalem, handed them to her accomplice and escorted him through the city center disguised as a Western tourist. She led him to the target she herself had selected, an eatery filled with families eating lunch. She then warned her "weapon" to wait fifteen minutes before he detonated the bomb - allowing her enough time to escape unharmed.
After her conviction, Tamimi smiled with pleasure upon learning from an interviewer how many children she murdered. She told Ynet: "I am not sorry for what I did. I will get out of prison and I refuse to recognize Israel’s existence… Discussions will only take place after Israel recognizes that this is Islamic land.” She has served only six years out of sixteen consecutive life terms.
Does any rational human being believe that this monster will enroll in a flower arranging course when she is released? Or sit at home writing a novel?
Former prisons commissioner Orit Adato, a staunch advocate of selective release of security prisoners, maintains that some prisoners must remain imprisoned. When asked "Do you think it is possible to rehabilitate the 'ideological' security prisoners?" she replied: "Not the hard core cases."
But neither expert views nor cold statistics are welcome by those eager for a mass prisoner release.
An extraterrestrial landing on earth for the first time would be forgiven for thinking that Netanyahu himself is holding Gilad Schalit captive. In a July 31 speech, marking the 1,500th day of Gilad's captivity, Noam Schalit addressed Netanyahu regarding his son: "Stop abusing him" he said, adding "A captive soldier is not a piece of real estate."
The truth is, Netanyahu has agreed to release 450 prisoners in negotiations with Hamas and another 550 unilaterally as a gesture to the Palestinian Authority. The 450 to Hamas includes over 100 terrorists who murdered more than 600 Israelis. Netanyahu has only refused to release the "mega-terrorists," those responsible for the six most horrific terror attacks of the second intifada.
However Netanyahu's concessions have not won him any friends among the Free Schalit activists. Nor did his call to the international community "to line up alongside the State of Israel and our unequivocal and just demand that our abducted soldier be returned immediately" impress them. They want nothing short of the fulfillment of every Hamas demand.
And with the Israeli media's unstinting support, the chances are they will ultimately win the government's acquiescence.
Columnists and reporters alike have stooped to absurd hyperbole in their coverage of the Schalit campaign. Haaretz's Yoel Marcus wrote last month of the march: "It was the most spontaneous, humane and impressive demonstration ever held here. At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, it was good to see the face of the beautiful Israeli."
Here is "the face of a beautiful Israeli" I would like this country to see today. It’s the face of a fifteen-year-old girl who cared passionately about disabled children and volunteered with them in myriad settings. Who loved and nurtured her own profoundly disabled sister unconditionally. Who studied the flute for years and played classical music on it that brought tears to my eyes. Who kept a diary throughout the last year of her life in which she detailed her activities in school and in her youth movement. Who recorded alongside those anecdotes the names of the victims of every terror attack perpetrated that year. Whose wish for the coming new year, which she did not live to see, was that her family remain close and supportive of one another. It is the face of my daughter, Malki, z"l.
On August 9th for the last eight years, I have urged others to remember the Sbarro bombing and its fifteen victims. One of them was Malki. Five others were the members of one family, a mother, father and three of their eight children. Another victim was an only child who was pregnant with what would have been her parents' first grandchild. One of the "injured," not even counted among the fifteen dead, is a young mother who has remained in a deep coma since that day.
This year, I beg you not only to remember them but to also to remind another person, someone who may have fallen prey to terrorism denial.
The author is a freelance writer in Jerusalem. She and her husband founded the Malki Foundation (www.kerenmalki.org) in memory of their daughter Malki who was murdered in the Sbarro restaurant massacre in 2001.
Thank you to the good people of CIF Watch for publishing a reminder today of Malki's life. Also, to Carl in Jerusalem who wrote last week on his Israel Matzav site on the day we commemorated the ninth anniversary according to the Hebrew calendar.