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I wish others knew what I know about Malki’s killer

She masterminded the 2001 murder of my daughter and 14 others in the Sbarro pizzeria bombing. Not only is she still free, she's a celebrity

This coming Sunday August 9, 2020, marks the completion of nineteen years since the stunningly heartless attack by a thuggery of Hamas terrorists on a pizzeria in the center of Jerusalem; a massacre directed explicitly at the many youngsters predictably found inside it, happily busy with getting lunch and with having fun on a school vacation afternoon.

This was a midday attack at Jerusalem’s busiest intersection, the heart of Israel’s capital city. There’s no room to doubt that the strategic goal explicitly involved dead Jewish children – as many as could be murdered. The bomber herself said so and for the record.

The explosive device was a man with a guitar case slung over his shoulder: a human bomb. The specially assembled case was rigged so it would never make music. It was heavily packed with explosives and nails and other shrapnel. The man attached to it was a willing human weapon-of-mass-destruction: a religious zealot in his twenties from a comfortably well-off Jenin family with a surname (Al-Masri) indicating their Egyptian heritage.

From available accounts, he was in the grip of ideological fervor of a kind that most non-adherents can never comprehend. He died content and fulfilled, leaving behind parents who have publicly celebrated their pride:

His father, Shaheel, flanked by his seven remaining sons, said he was proud of Izzedine. Shaheel Al-Masri said Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “is continuing the policy of killing our people and my son succeeded in carrying out a suitable response”.

(Shaheel Al-Masri, the father of the human bomb whose explosion caused my Malki’s death, was shopped around to Western journalists for interviews in the week after the Sbarro attack in 2001. I know this because a prominent Australian reporter contacted me by phone that week, urging me to take part in a double-header interview: me with the man whose son died blowing up Malki. I was repulsed by the idea and I said so. The reporter assured me he knew Al-Masri senior was a man of peace, a devoted father who sought only peace and good relations with the Israelis. The interview he proposed never happened. Later events made me understand that the reporter – who went on to win accolades and to take a senior management role at the government corporation that employed him – had fallen victim to the simple bait-and-switch trap that generally works so well for terrorist organizations.)

The explosives and the human bomb himself were planted at the bustling location in the heart of Jerusalem’s capital city by a woman of 21. She was deliberately dressed down to look like an Israeli or perhaps a European tourist.

In fact she was the child of a dusty, sleepy town north of Amman, Jordan’s capital, that was originally settled by Muslims from Chechnya fleeing the endless wars in their own region. Describing herself these days as “Jordanian of Palestinian origin”, Ahlam Ahmad al-Tamimi had arrived unaccompanied in the territories and villages controlled by the Palestinian Authority shortly after completing high school in Jordan in order, so the public record says, to pursue media studies.

A nuanced and more revealing version was shared with my wife and me by an American journalist who wrote “Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Suicide Bombers“. She visited our home in the early 2000s and told us what she knew about the Sbarro bomber.

In that version, Tamimi, one of twelve children living with her parents in Jordan, was “someone with an independent character” and “a history of problems both at home and at school”. That rebellious nature led her to refuse to wear the hijab and to reject an arranged marriage proposed by her father. The journalist says she then became pregnant outside of marriage.

In Palestinian Arab society, that’s known to be a condition with a potentially serious prejudicial impact on so-called “family honour” as well as on the woman herself. In well documented cases, it leads to sudden-and-violent-death-by-family-member. And in certain societies, Jordan notoriously being one, the perpetrators are saved the bother of being charged with a crime and walk free without punishment.

Was the woman’s subsequent role in the front lines of Palestinian Arab terror attacks on Israelis a form of penitence from straying from her community’s conservative ways? In my opinion, probably yes. But she has never said so.

In Tamimi’s case, after giving birth, the journalist quotes her saying

There was nothing left for me… I wasn’t even allowed to keep my baby with me. He was to be raised as my brother’s son.

Tamimi was sent off (as reported here) to live with clan members in a Samaria-district village an easy drive north of Jerusalem called Nabi Saleh [I wrote about it in a series of articles starting with this: “17-Mar-13: A little village in the hills, and the monsters it spawns“]. Almost all its 600 or so residents are Tamimis, many of them members of families where both parents are Tamimi cousins. From there she enrolled as a college student at Birzeit University.

She also had a night job, reading the news on a now-defunct Ramallah-area TV station, Al Istiqlal. She has claimed that this brought with it journalistic credentials that allowed her to easily slip in and out of Jerusalem [“05-May-13: Self-confessed jihadist murderer: “With my media card, I was able to enter back and forth, undetected…””]. For several reasons, that’s unlikely. Her ability to get past the security was simply part of the reality that Palestinian Arabs by the tens of thousands cross daily in both directions. At the time, Israeli security was more relaxed than it later became.

She says she was initially a supporter and member of the PLO’s Fatah faction, a supposedly secular group deeply engaged in terror and headed at the time by Yasser Arafat. Some time later, probably in the summer of 2001, the Islamist terrorists of Hamas came by and won her over. That is when she adopted a conservative Islamist religious outlook along with a taste for savagery.

Like much of what is known about Tamimi’s murderous career, the source for what is known and reported is boastful interviews she has given frequently over the years, mostly to admiring Arab reporters. Embellishing and adjusting facts for their effect is a constant in the stories Tamimi spins about herself.

I studied all the ideologies of each [terrorist] group in order to decide which one I will join… With my media card I was able to enter back and forth, undetected, to do journalistic interviews in Jerusalem in order to avoid detection by the Zionists… First, I scouted places to decide where to carry out Jihadi operations… I would wander into Jerusalem to find the best spots to carry out these missions… First, I would scout stores and major shopping malls… schools, restaurants… I would then present my findings to the leader of the cell… I would do a meticulous count on the numbers of people moving in these areas and study it mathematically. I would use my wrist watch and count how many were walking in an area within one hour. So I would make reports that if an operation is conducted in such and such area. Then I would estimate the numbers of casualties; in some cases my number would be 30 Israelis will die and other estimates it would be 50 Israelis that will die… So from this time to that time there would be 70 Israelis who entered this spot. So during lunch for example, from this time to that time, so many Zionists enter this area. The school for example, I would study the morning time when school children would enter. [Quoted here: http://thisongoingwar.blogspot.com/2013/05/5-may-13-self-confessed-jihadist.html]

Why did she go looking for target sites filled with children? Because she was appalled by Israeli expansionism? Did occupation and security checkpoints and Jewish settlement enrage her? Did she pine for a Palestinian Arab homeland? Or long for a government run along the ultra-religious lines she says she has embraced?

She has gone on record with clear and compelling answer. And it’s none of the above.

Izzedine al-Masri [the human bomb whom she personally brought to the central Jerusalem site she had chosen to destroy] asked me just one question… I had been to the area before [meaning she had scouted central Jerusalem during the previous week for target-rich sites and so] “I knew there was a Jewish religious school near there…” [an ideal target for a bombing] That was his question and I said yes, there are religious Jews there, and also other people… [Why did he ask?] Because the base of the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a religious struggle…” [08-Oct-17: Why kill religious Jewish children? Because, says Hamas celebrity-jihadist, this is a religious struggle]

My wife and I have been striving for years – since 2012 in one sense, and for seven years before that in another – to see Ahlam Tamimi brought to justice.

It’s not just that she lives as a free citizen of Jordan today. We are appalled – beyond that, we’re stunned and infuriated – that she is a celebrity there. And that she hosted her own pro-terror, pro-terrorists TV show intended for Arabic-speaking audiences all over the world. Not a small show, not a small audience and not for a small period of time. In fact a show beamed weekly for more than four and a half years by satellite and via endless numbers of streaming websites from downtown Amman where it was produced under the ever-alert and rigidly restrictive noses of the King Abdullah II regime all around the world – directly into the homes of Arabic-speaking Australians, Arabic-speaking Americans, Arabic-speaking Europeans. And into every corner of Jordan and the Arab world.

All of this amounts to a toxic load of incitement from a celebrity whose fame derives from her being a front-line combatant in a conflict that in her words “is a religious struggle”.

The United States has posted a $5 million reward for Tamimi’s capture and conviction. We hope it gets paid soon. But I sometimes wonder about who will eventually score the cash payout given that she lives (a) at an address known to ordinary Jordanians as well as to every working journalist based in Jordan; and (b) is a public figure who participates frequently in events that get plenty of media coverage. She is a fugitive, without a doubt; the world’s most wanted female fugitive, in fact. But not in the kingdom where she lives. The one headed by a monarch whose highly regulated media quotes almost daily his wisdom on how to defeat terror.

Ahlam Tamimi has in fact not been hiding her whereabouts for a single day since returning triumphantly to Jordan in October 2011. Her entire life since she walked free in the Shalit deal has been a public performance aided by a multitude of helpful impresarios and press agents.

In campaigning for Tamimi to be brought to justice and face trial under U.S. law in Washington D.C., we realize better than most of our supporters and for that matter those who oppose our efforts that the news industry – by ignoring us, ignoring the campaign, ignoring the terrorist’s freedom – makes this mission a lot harder.

And so do the high-profile human rights and justice-centred organizations, some of them Jewish, who tell us in private communications that their hearts are absolutely with us and that Malki’s memory is a blessing – but who urge us to stop pushing publicly and let quiet back-channels and gentle persuasion do their work.

If people understood how the painful and offensive game we are in is being played, how much distortion there is in what’s reported, how deadly the silence from Jordan and from a variety of other government officials is, they would probably join us.

We still hope they will.

About the Author
Arnold Roth, an attorney and technology business manager, serves as honorary chair of the Malki Foundation which he and his wife Frimet established in 2001. Its work honors the memory of their daughter Malki, murdered in a terrorist attack on the Sbarro pizza shop in the center of Jerusalem.
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