Editor's note: The second paragraph of this story was updated on Monday, Aug. 26 to reflect that Sarah N. Stern was employed by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) when she was working on the Koby Mandell Act. What had originally been the fifth paragraph, "I vowed to myself at that moment that I would not rest until that bill was signed into law by the U.S. president," is removed from the updated version. For ZOA's response to this story, please see the group's letter to the editor here.
By Sarah N. Stern/JNS.org
On May 8, 2001, Koby Mandell and his friend, Yosef Ishran, skipped school. When the children didn’t return, their parents began to worry. The boys’ bodies had been found brutally mangled in a cave outside their community of Tekoa, Israel.
At that point, while I was national policy coordinator for the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), I had been working on a piece of legislation to put the issue of Americans killed abroad in the hands of the Department of Justice (DOJ). If “justice” were the name on the door, I reasoned, there would be more of a chance of getting a crack at justice, uncontaminated by diplomatic factors.
I knew I had to call Sherri, Koby’s mother, a beloved friend of mine from Silver Spring, Md. I wanted to find some words of comfort. I asked her if she would like to name the bill in memory of Koby.
“I can just see Koby jumping up and down in heaven to have a law named after him,” she said.
The Koby Mandell Act was passed and signed into law by President George W. Bush in December of 2004. In May of 2005, the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OJVOT) was opened in the DOJ.
[For ZOA's account of the events leading to the Koby Mandell Act's passage and the establishment of the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism, see the group's letter to the editor, in response to Sarah N. Stern's op-ed, here. Mort Klein, ZOA national president, told JNS.org that after he lobbied the late U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Specter, while working with ZOA, was the one who "made this anti-terror legislation (the Koby Mandell Act) become law."]
The victory, however, was merely pyrrhic.
The stated mission of the OJVOT is “to ensure that the investigation and prosecution of terrorist attacks against American citizens overseas remain a high priority within the Department of Justice.” When the OJVOT was opened, Attorney
General Gonzales said, “This new office guarantees a voice for victims and their families in the investigation and prosecution of terrorists who prey on their victims overseas.”
It’s clear that this office was supposed to be an advocacy shop within the DOJ for the victims of terrorism. Instead it has become just another mouth piece for the State Department’s bureaucratic roadblocks to justice.
The office has now been open for over eight years.
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords, there have been 71 Americans murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Israel or the disputed territories. To date, this office has not brought a single one to justice.
Our Supreme Court is etched with the words, “Equal Justice Under the Law.” Don’t these Americans deserve equal justice, as well? Or are they just the disposable, forgotten Americans?
All of this history recently became very relevant, when Israel agreed to release 104 Palestinian terrorists, all with blood on their hands. The first wave of 26 were released last week. They were welcomed home as conquering heroes. The true obstacle to peace is a culture that praises terrorists as martyrs and heroes and continues to incite for more terrorism.
Among the 26 was Al Haj Othman Amar Mustafa, the terrorist who murdered former U.S. Marine Steven Frederick Rosenfeld.
In 1989, Steven was taking a hike in the Judean Hills when he was stopped by three Arabs who engaged him in pleasant conversation. Within a short amount of time, they stole a pocket knife from his backpack, and used it to kill him
U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ) is circulating a congressional letter to demand that Mustafa and all the other terrorists who have killed American citizens be brought to these shores, indicted and prosecuted.
The organization that I founded, the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), stands solidly behind that letter. After that, we plan to call for hearings to find out why the Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism is failing so miserably to comply with its mission.
We would like to believe that most Americans are decent people who want justice for all their citizens, regardless of religion, or where they were maimed or murdered. And we know that, as Judge Louis Brandeis said, “Justice is truth in action.”
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of EMET, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy shop in Washington, DC.
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