Sixty-four American citizens have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Israel since the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords, including my daughter Alisa — yet the United States has not prosecuted even one of the killers. How is that possible?
That was the question that set off heated exchanges between members of Congress and a Justice Department official at a Capitol Hill hearing on February 2.
The hearing was called by Congressman Ron DeSantis (R-Florida), chairman of the national security subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee. His target: the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OVT) which, DeSantis said, has “completely failed” to carry out its responsibilities.
The OVT was established in 2005 after years of protests by Jewish activists over the failure of the U.S. to take action against Palestinian Arab killers of Americans. A total of 138 U.S. citizens have been murdered, and 193 wounded, since the 1960s. Sixty-four of the fatalities, as mentioned, have occurred since 1993.
The OVT is required to update the families of terror victims, and to help bring about the prosecution of the terrorists. But according to testimony at the February 2 hearing, the OVT has done an inadequate job of updating the families – and has not brought about even a single prosecution for attacks in Israel or the Palestinian Authority areas.
The record of the Office for Victims of Overseas Terrorism is “an affront to the victims of terror,” according to an impact statement submitted to the congressional committee by Sherri Mandell, mother of 13-year-old Koby Mandell, who was murdered by terrorists near the Israeli town of Tekoah in 2003.
Although Jewish organizations were also invited to submit impact statements before the hearing, Congressman DeSantis said that only one, the National Council of Young Israel, did so. It’s hard to understand why no other Jewish or Zionist organization took the trouble to submit a statement.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brad Wiegmann, testifying on behalf of the Department of Justice, claimed that pursuing Palestinian killers of Americans is the department’s “highest priority” and that the victims and their families “are foremost in our thoughts.”
Wiegmann did not explain why the Obama administration’s Rewards for Justice website, which offers rewards for information leading to the capture of terrorists who have killed Americans abroad, almost completely ignores the Palestinian issue. The victims of the Palestinians are not mentioned by name on the website. Only two of the many dozens of such attacks are described.
Moreover, the website categorizes all Palestinian attacks under the misleading label “Violence in Opposition to the Middle East Peace Negotiations” – with no acknowledgment that many of the attacks were sponsored by the Palestinian Authority itself, despite the PA’s alleged interest in Mideast peace negotiations.
Attempting to deflect criticism of the OVT’s non-action on Palestinians, Wiegmann pointed out that the Department of Justice brought charges in a case involving Americans financing a Palestinian terror group, and in an old hijacking case involving a terrorist of Palestinian descent.
Congressman DeSantis responded that Wiegmann’s claims were misleading, because when it comes to cases involving post-1993 terrorists sponsored or sheltered by the Palestinian Authority, the OVT and Department of Justice are “zero-for-64,” as he put it.
DeSantis hit the nail on the head. What’s obstructing justice is that the Department of Justice and the State Department won’t touch any case in which it would have to cross swords with the Palestinian Authority. If an attack was sponsored by a PA faction, or the terrorists who perpetrated an attack are being sheltered in PA territory, it’s apparently considered off-limits by the Obama administration.
Sarri Singer, who was wounded in a 2003 Jerusalem bus bombing and is the founder and director of Strength to Strength, an organization that supports victims of terrorism, testified about the permanent injuries she suffered and the failure of the OVT to provide her with information about suspects in that bombing.
“It was only when I became a plaintiff in lawsuits against banks that assisted the terrorists, that the OVT finally became more cooperative in providing information,” she said. But on the more important issue of extraditing and prosecuting Palestinian killers of Americans, “the OVT’s record is non-existent.”
Peter Schwartz, the uncle of murdered U.S. student Ezra Schwartz, testified that the OVT has not provided his family with any information about “what efforts, if any” are being taken to pursue suspects in the case. Although the perpetrator of that November 2015 attack was captured, there is evidence that others were involved, Schwartz added. He pointed out that the killer had received $10,000 from an as-yet-unidentified source to pay for the weapons and other expenses related to the attack.
There were few dry eyes in the room when Arnold Roth, the father of murdered teenager Malka Roth, recalled going into her room after the attack and seeing “her slippers next to the bed that she would never sleep in again.” Roth pointed out that Palestinian terrorists – including killers of Americans – who are in Israeli prisons receive substantial payments from the Palestinian Authority. “The PA is making terrorism a legitimate career choice in the eyes of young Palestinians,” he testified.
Roth also mentioned that one of his daughter’s killers, Ahlam Tamimi, is now the host of a Hamas-sponsored television show in Jordan, on which she has repeatedly boasted of her terrorist actions.
Asked by Congressman DeSantis about PA payments to terrorists and about Jordan permitting Tamimi’s incitement, Wiegmann of the Justice Department reiterated vaguely that the administration “will do everything possible to secure justice.”
That triggered this tense exchange:
DeSantis: “With regard to terrorists involved in murdering these 64 Americans, how many suspects have been indicted, extradited, or prosecuted?”
Wiegmann: “I think the answer is none.”
DeSantis: “Is there any other part of the world in which killers of Americans have been extradited or prosecuted?”
Wiegmann: “Yes, in significant numbers.”
DeSantis: “Do you have a plan to finally prosecute some of the Palestinian killers?”
Wiegmann: “Bringing all the terrorists to justice is our highest priority.”
DeSantis: “You say it’s your highest priority, but your record is zero-for-64. What exactly is the Department of Justice planning to do about this terrorist who has the television show in Jordan?”
At that point Wiegmann tried to blame Israel by noting that Tamimi had been in an Israeli jail but was released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. Wiegmann claimed the Obama administration opposed Israel’s release of the terrorists, although that assertion that has never been independently substantiated. Since the administration itself has engaged in such prisoner exchanges – recall its exchange of five Taliban leaders for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl – it hardly seems plausible that the White House told the Israelis not to do likewise.
In any event, Wiegmann admitted under further questioning that the United States still has the option of arresting and prosecuting Tamimi, even though she served some time in an Israeli prison. “It would not be double jeopardy to prosecute her at this point?” DeSantis asked. “No, it would not,” Wiegmann replied.
In response to another question from Congressman DeSantis, Wiegmann denied that the State Department had ordered the OVT and Justice Department to back away from Palestinian cases in order to avoid angering the Palestinian Authority or upsetting the Oslo process.
Yet Wiegmann was unable to offer any coherent explanation as to why not a single Palestinian has ever been extradited in the deaths of any of the 138 Americans killed in Israel since the 1960s.
Wiegmann and his colleagues can’t say there isn’t enough evidence, because in some of the cases the Palestinian killers have confessed.
They can’t say the killers cannot be found, because some of them are serving openly in the Palestinian security forces or, like Ahlam Tamimi in Jordan, are in the public spotlight.
They can’t hide behind the fact that there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority, because many countries hand over suspects to the U.S. even without such a treaty.
In other words, until the Department of Justice provides a serious, plausible explanation for record, reasonable people will have no choice but to conclude that political considerations are involved.
At the hearing, Congressman Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina) focused on the OVT’s failure to provide victims’ families with information about the suspects’ whereabouts. He asked the three witnesses again whether they had received information they requested from the OVT; all three indicated that they had not.
Challenged by Meadows, Wiegmann acknowledged that providing information to the families is the OVT’s “first obligation, and if we have not done that, then we’ve failed to do our job.” Meadows then asked Wiegmann to give the committee a report, within 120 days, of what the OVT is doing to provide information to the families.
Meadows’s initiative should be applauded, but it does not go nearly far enough. The OVT should be required to report not only on what it does to provide information to families, but what it is doing to facilitate the extradition and prosecution of Palestinian killers of Americans.
The OVT should also be compelled by Congress to explain what it is doing about the Palestinian Authority paying salaries to killers of Americans, giving government jobs to killers of Americans, and naming public parks and streets after killers of Americans.
And considering the size of the Justice Department, it should not need 120 days – four months – to compile such a report. Every day that goes by without justice is an outrage. Four more months of stonewalling and evasiveness is just too long.
This column first appeared in the Jewish Press.