“Now the LORD saw, and it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice.” (Isaiah 59:15)
Pre-meditated murder. Rape. Aggravated Assault. We’re all familiar with the terms, some from a distance and some, to their great sorrow, from personal experience or up close. As we listen or read of the stories, we are all too often left with a sense of injustice. The perpetrator was found “not guilty” and afterwards proudly confessed to having committed the crime. A criminal was found guilty, but the punishment was too lenient and in a short period of time, the criminal was permitted to go free. Or, the criminal is released early, or doesn’t spend time in jail at all, because of executive pardon. Or, because of legal maneuvering, the perpetrator doesn’t even stand trial for his crimes.
We’re not talking about someone who was innocent, who was wrongly accused, legally tried, found guilty and even executed for a crime that he didn’t commit. Such a situation truly generates a gnawing anger that an irreversible wrong has been done. Indeed, according to what has come to be known as “Blackstone’s ratio”, expressed by the famous English jurist William Blackstone, is the idea that “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” This is also in line with the centuries earlier perspective of the renowned Jewish legal theorist referred to as “The Rambam” (Moses Maimonides), who wrote that “it is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death.”
On the contrary. The focus of attention is on one who openly, wilfully and wantonly plans and carries out, directly and/or through one or more accomplices, murder. We are a very diverse people and we have very different perspectives on punishment of criminal behavior. Some emphasize that the primary goal is rehabilitation, while others advocate that the best deterrent to criminal activity is the ultimate punishment of the convicted criminal, namely: capital punishment. In this regard, the oft-repeated line from Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado” finds necessary application: “Let the punishment fit the crime.”
The question of the day is: What is the appropriate punishment for a terrorist, who plotted, together with others, to carry out the murder of innocent men, women and children, and, particularly, religious people, and who rejoiced without any regrets at the success of her efforts? Most people would answer that the “system” should throw the book at the terrorist and impose the death penalty or life imprison. The last thought to enter our minds would be to allow the terrorist to be released on a prisoner-exchange deal, allowing that terrorist to be cheered as a hero, be admired by, and be an exemple for, children, be blessed and praised by ruler and commoner alike, and be given freedom to move about and spout hatred and generate incitement of others to follow and commit similar acts of terrorism.
We personally know people who suffered through a personal act of terrorism that included child rape, others who lost a child in the prime of life and who didn’t even make it to high school, another who survived a stabbing incident, as well as a colleague who was killed when a terrorist blew himself up on a bus. My family was only five minutes away from a restaurant that was blown up by a female terrorist, destroying families and maiming others for life. Of course, there are other incidents. Some of the terrorists died while carrying out their acts of terrorism. Others survived. Some were captured, tried and convicted and put in jail, with the surviving victims and/or their families hoping that after the terrorists are locked away, the key to their prison cell would be thrown away.
On the morning of August 9, 2001, Ahlam Tamimi, a 21-year-old Jordanian journalism student at a university located in the region of Judea and Samaria, worked as a newsreader at an Islamist TV station. She was a former Fatah (PLO) activist, who later joined Hamas.
Izz al-Din Shuheil al-Masri, 22, was the son of a successful “Palestinian” restaurateur. The two met up in Ramallah, traveled by taxi to a military checkpoint north of Jerusalem, then walked across into Israel. Their dress and appearance gave the impression that they were just some young Israelis or tourists and they did not arouse the suspicion of the border soldiers, even though al-Masri was carrying a guitar case that was not examined. They took another taxi to a busy center of Jerusalem and separated just before 2 p.m. Tamimi took a bus back to Ramallah. Al-Masri walked into a crowded Sbarro pizza restaurant and detonated the bomb that was hidden in his guitar case. The devastation was not easily described – 15 dead, another 130 injured, one of whom remains hospitalized to this day in a permanent vegetative state. Al-Masri died along with his victims.
Tamimi was captured by Israeli security forces within weeks, was tried and sentenced to 16 life terms for murder, with the recommendation of the trial judges that she “should never be eligible for pardon, for early parole or any other release.”
The lives of the families that suffered the loss of their loved ones in the terrorist bombing of the Sbarro pizzeria were never the same. Yet, they held on to the hope that the terrorist who remained alive would never see the light of day outside of the prison.
Still, even as the families of the victims remember the events of that day with sorrow, anguish and pain and have not recovered, the opposite is true for the terrorist who caused their irreparable loss. While in jail, Tamimi was interviewed by the media, expressed joy over the number of deaths that resulted from the bombing that she referred to as “my operation” and thrived, becoming a celebrity in the Islamic world.
She was released as part of the prisoner exchange for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas in 2006. He was released five years later, in exchange for 1,027 prisoners held by Israel, 280 of whom had “blood on their hands”. One of them was Ahlam Tamimi. Much as I usually agree with Israel’s policy not to leave any of its sons behind, I parted company with that policy when this “deal” was announced. It was a political disaster and laid the groundwork for future negotiations, including the present ones for the return of bodies of Israeli soldiers taken into Gaza by Hamas during the war of 2014. Hamas is looking for another public relations success with the release of a large number of prisoners, many of whom, like in the Shalit “deal”, have blood on their hands.
Since being released from prison, Tamimi’s life has been on the upswing. She has been able to marry, is planning on starting a family. She is revered and praised in Islamic circles and has no regrets, other than that more people were not killed through her efforts.
I read an article today about one of the teenage victims of the Sbarro terrorist attack, Malki Roth, and her family’s ongoing efforts to bring Ahlam Tamimi to back before the bar of justice. Now, there is a ray of hope that Tamimi will have to stand trial for her crime in, of all places, the United States. This is because U.S. law allows for the prosecution of criminals who kill American citizens. irrespective of where the crime was committed. Some of the victims of the Sbarro explosion were American citizens. Tamimi is in Jordan. The U.S. and Jordan have an extradition agreement in force. The U.S. asked Jordan to extradite Tamimi. Jordan refused. Maybe, just maybe, the U.S. will succeed to remove the smile off of her face. But, it is easier said than done. Politics allowed Tamimi to be released and now politics, at home and abroad, have again entered into the picture to try to keep her from being extradited to the U.S. The article can be read here.
Paraphrasing Prime Minister’s 1997 book, “Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists”, the writer of the article contends:
“[Malki’s father] would argue that governments that seek to defeat terrorism must refuse to release convicted terrorists from prisons since this emboldens them and their colleagues. By nurturing the belief that their demands are likely to be met in the future, he would argue, you encourage terrorist blackmail of the very kind that you want to stop. Only the most unrelenting refusal to ever give in to such blackmail can prevent this.”
The article is not an easy read, but a necessary one and I would recommend it. Terrorism affects every one of us. We need to properly understand it in order to properly deal with it. No one can say anymore, “It can’t happen here.” Israel doesn’t have the death penalty, except for Nazi war criminals. Taking into consideration the number of Israeli lives lost as a result of terrorism, it is quite possible, as one of my close friends wrote, “A judicious use of the death penalty may have prevented this mess and others similar to it.” Would you agree?
May God watch over each of you and set His protection around you to keep you safe from all harm of all kinds at all times.
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice….” (Micah 6:8)
“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue….” (Deuteronomy 16:20).
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.