Israel failed the parents of Malki Roth. Yet they now hope that the Trump administration and congressional Republicans will do better. But as much as all decent people have to be rooting for them to succeed in their efforts to force the Kingdom of Jordan to extradite their child’s murderer to the United States, the bitter truth is that everyone in Washington, Jerusalem and Amman knows it’s not likely to happen.
There’s a lot of blame for this to go around and among those responsible are people, including Israel’s prime minister, who aren’t usually guilty of encouraging terrorism. But understanding why an unrepentant child murderer is able to go on living in freedom and boasting about her crimes requires us to acknowledge both the realities of Israeli politics and the Middle East.
This story begins with a horrendous crime.
On Aug. 9, 2001, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew up Sbarro’s in Jerusalem. The bomb killed 15 Israelis and tourists, and wounded and maimed 130 others. The crime was planned by Ahmad Ahlam al-Tamimi, a then 20-year-old Palestinian who chose the site to attack and led the bomber to the pizza parlor. She thought the restaurant was a good target because it was a popular spot for families feeding children lunch on Friday afternoons during the pre-Shabbat rush.
Nor was Tamimi sorry after she learned that her bloody work had resulted in the murder of eight children. In an interview on Palestinian television in 2012, she remained proud of what she had done—and, in fact, reveled in the memory of being on a Jerusalem bus when the news of the bombing was broadcast and hearing the other Arab passengers celebrating as the rising death toll became known.
Tamimi didn’t celebrate for long. Israeli security forces soon apprehended her, and she was tried and then sentenced to 16 life sentences, plus 250 years. But she would not remain in prison. In 2011, she was one of more than 1,000 Palestinian terrorists, including many like her with the blood of many victims on their hands, who were released in a prisoner exchange with Hamas in order to gain the release of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Arnold and Frimet Roth, whose 15-year-old daughter Malka died at Sbarro’s, are part of all those relatives of terror victims whose murderers were released. They begged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to free their daughter’s killer. But, under enormous pressure from an Israeli public that sympathized with the plight of a young soldier who had been held captive for five years and, like all Jewish leaders down through the ages, feeling that the religious commandment to redeem captives must be obeyed, Netanyahu signed off on the deal.
Since then, Tamimi has lived in Jordan, where she is a citizen. She has a generous pension from the Palestinian Authority as part of their “pay to slay” system and has hosted a TV show where she poses as an admired Arab role model.
But the Roths haven’t given up. In addition to creating a charity that helps families with children who have disabilities, they have used their American citizenship to press the United State to pursue Tamimi. Two of those murdered at Sbarro’s were Americans—Roth and 31-year-old Judith Greenbaum, who was pregnant, and another woman, Chana Nachenberg, was left in a permanent vegetative state.
The Justice Department charged Tamimi under the law that allows it to try terrorists who attack American nationals on foreign soil. But although Jordan and the United States have an extradition treaty that should have resulted in Tamimi’s being brought to justice, a court in the Hashemite kingdom refused to enforce it. Though she is on the FBI’s list of “Most Wanted Terrorists” with a $5 million bounty on her head for her arrest and conviction, she continues to live freely in Jordan, confident that she is in no danger of extradition.
Seven Republican congressmen have signed a letter threatening to sanction Jordan if it doesn’t extradite Tamimi. Given the $1.8 billion in aid that the kingdom receives from the United States, that ought to scare Jordanian King Abdullah. But it doesn’t.
Abdullah is a moderate Arab monarch who is popular in Washington, as well as Jerusalem. Both nations believe that without his undemocratic regime keeping a lid on Palestinian extremism, the region would be a lot more dangerous. And it’s not an exaggeration to say that if his government did the right thing and extradited Tamimi to the United States, it’s possible that the hostility to Israel and Jews in Jordan would cost him his throne.
Abdullah desperately needs the American aid. And though the GOP congressmen deserve praise for their stand, it’s unlikely that even a Trump administration that is sympathetic to the issue will risk allowing Jordan to fall into the hands of Palestinian extremists or Islamists.
Is having a government in Jordan that is a tacit ally of the Jewish state more important than justice for terror victims? It’s easy to say that it’s not. Just as it was easy to criticize Netanyahu for the prisoner exchange that freed Tamimi and other murderers, but which the vast majority of Israelis wanted if it meant Shalit’s freedom.
Criticize Netanyahu on this issue all you like; still, would we praise him or the U.S. government if their actions made Israel less safe, even if it means turning a blind eye to Abdullah’s contemptible appeasement of terror supporters?
In a better world, everyone would revile terrorists rather than applaud them. Embattled democracies would not need to prop up shaky monarchies led by kings who know they dare not act justly, lest they be deposed.
But we don’t live in such a world. That doesn’t mean Malki’s parents and other good people, including members of Congress, shouldn’t go on fighting for justice. It simply means that even as we do so, our frustration needs to be tempered by the knowledge that there are some issues that result in no good choices—and that those who have to think about making them shouldn’t be envied.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.