Monday, March 28, 2022

28-Mar-22: Washington's lost voice

The Sbarro pizzeria shortly after it was bombed, Aug 9, 2001
[A briefer version of the opinion piece by Arnold Roth below was originally published by FORWARD on March 14, 2022 under the title "Israel set our daughter’s murderer free. We’re on a quest to hold her accountable". The text below includes additional hyperlinks and other content.]

In an airy apartment some 65 miles from our Jerusalem home lives a woman who has impacted our lives profoundly. My wife Frimet and I have spent years trying to get her imprisoned for the rest of her life.

On March 14, 2017, a little over five years ago, the Department of Justice in Washington charged Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi with “conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against US nationals outside the US, resulting in death.”

Her weapon of mass destruction was a human being: a man with an explosives-and-shrapnel-filled guitar-case on his back which he detonated while standing at the counter of a crowded Sbarro pizzeria in the commercial heart of Jerusalem on August 9. 2001, decapitating himself and destroying the bustling premises and everything inside. 

Tamimi, who later called the massacre that killed 15, including seven children, “my operation” in one of her many triumphant social posts, selected the site, brought the bomb to its door and instructed the young zealot when and how to explode. By the time he did that, she had already fled to safety.

Some hours later in Ramallah, she presented the evening TV news at a Palestinian station where she had a night job. We weren’t watching.

* * *

That horrible time, the nightmare hours starting immediately after the 2:00 pm explosion that brought life in Jerusalem to a screeching halt, are hard now to recall in any detail. I know we spent them in frantic pursuit of leads, phoning hospitals, deep in desperate prayer — trying to get a handle on whatever was left of our normal existence.

In the small hours of the next day, a Friday, our two older sons phoned from Abu Kabir, Israel’s national forensic lab in Jaffa. I took the call with trembling hands and heard them say they had found their sister.

We buried our smiley, talented, much-loved Malki, 15, the next afternoon.

Tamimi descended into Israel’s military courts system and then prison in the weeks and years that followed. No one from the government ever contacted us; we knew what the Israeli public knew; our sources were the same as everyone else’s.

Then something incomprehensible: Israel made a deal in October 2011 to get back Gilad Shalit, a soldier held for ransom by Hamas. The price: freedom for 1,027 convicted terrorists, most of them killers. We turned to the media to express the incomprehensibility of what was being done: "19-Oct-11: The Shalit Deal: A victims' viewpoint"

With no one from our government informing or asking what we might think, Tamimi’s sixteen terms of life imprisonment ended just like that. Eight years after being sentenced, she was free.

* * *

The awful reality turned unbearable just a couple of months after Tamimi settled back in Jordan where she was born and educated: she was given her own shiny new weekly television show, beamed by satellite every Friday night into all parts of the Arabic speaking world via the Al-Quds TV channel, one of two globe-hugging television channels operated by the Hamas terrorist regime (the other is Al-Aqsa TV)
The February 2012 announcement of
Tamimi's weekly TV program

"Naseem Al Ahrar" (translation: “Breezes of the Free”), focusing on the injustices allegedly visited on Palestinian Arab prisoners languishing in Israeli custody. was produced in Jordan by Hamas’ local chapter. Its agenda was to incite Arabic-speaking global audiences.

It became a hit that ran for five years.

I went to Washington, armed with a video of Frimet begging for their help, to persuade the Department of Justice that criminal charges — those I mentioned above — should be brought against the Sbarro mastermind. No case of Palestinian Arab terror leading to the murder of Americans in Israel had ever been prosecuted by the US government before, though a law enabling this had been on the books for years.

That impassioned appeal of mine to a roomful of prosecutors, investigators and FBI agents happened in February 2012. No one told us when a federal judge signed the criminal complaint July 15, 2013. Or when US diplomats were negotiating with Jordan to extradite her. We were given no inkling the charges existed.

These things we learned in a March 14, 2017 private meeting with DOJ representatives in Jerusalem. They gave us advance notice of the charges being unveiled that night, of Tamimi being designated an FBI Most Wanted, of an arrest order and extradition request delivered to the Hashemite Kingdom.

We envisaged a road ahead leading to trial and imprisonment. In less than a week, we learned how naïve we were.

The five years that ensued have been hard. The DOJ people making the Tamimi announcement in Washington were a picture of righteous determination. And then they all became unreachable.

There were no forceful American responses at all when Jordan’s highest court ruled that same week ["
20-Mar-17: The Hashemite Kingdom's courts have spoken: The murdering FBI fugitive will not be handed over"] that the 1995 Clinton/King Hussein Extradition Treaty was invalid because it hadn’t been adequately ratified. Last year via a Freedom of Information suit, Frimet and I obtained documentary proof that the Jordanians are (picking our words with care) concealing the truth.

In the years since March 2017, the US has stated formally — very quietly — that the treaty actually is valid. But we noticed no public call was made on Jordan then, or since, to hand her over to US law enforcement whether under the treaty or, given Jordan’s dependence on US support, independent of it.

Jordan’s king, whose father signed the treaty and eloquently (as our litigation uncovered) warned against those who would dare to undermine it in years to come, has been an honored guest of the Trump and Biden administrations over and again. Jordan is today one of the largest recipients of massive US foreign aid (either first, second or third on the list depending on how the sums are done.) This week the agreement ensuring the American aid continues was renewed.

Tamimi meanwhile remains free in Amman, never in hiding for even a day.

It’s not only Washington that’s lost its voice. With a couple of exceptions, America’s major Jewish organizations have failed to urge the US to enforce its own criminal code or its own treaty to bring Tamimi to justice.

Through writing, blogging, speaking via video conference wherever we are invited, we keep the campaign alive. But to a stunning degree, the mainstream news industry suppresses the Jordan/Tamimi issue. More than 20,000 signatures on our petition urge the Secretary of State to insist the admitted bomber is brought to US justice. But if we stop pushing, it’s clear to us that Tamimi stays free.

To my knowledge, no US official has pushed back. It’s worse: if they listen, it’s to express sympathy for our loss; then they stop taking our calls and answering our emails.

We understand the political calculus: terror bad, King Abdullah good, mustn’t undermine him. But if you see justice as a supreme value, it’s hard not to feel betrayed.

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