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Remembering and Forgetting on 9/11

Despite President Obama's assertions at the 9-11 memorial that the fight against terror is only against al Qaeda, it was still good to hear him speaking about the enduring nature of a nation’s memory of its terror victims. Here in Israel, the bloggers behind This Ongoing War waged a campaign to require the Jerusalem municipality to remember Jerusalem’s victims of terror.
Frimet Roth speaking at the unveiling of a plaque at the site of the Sbarro restaurant massacre, in Central Jerusalem, September 2003.

Frimet Roth speaking at the unveiling of a plaque at the site of the Sbarro restaurant massacre, in Central Jerusalem, September 2003.
Photo Credit: Arnold Roth

Eleven years after the tragedy, 9/11 events are happening across the United States today and in other places where the memories of that most dramatic of turning-points still resonate.

In Washington this afternoon, the president of the United States promised Americans in a speech from the Pentagon (“Obama says victims will never be forgotten as 9/11 remembrances begin“( that the September 11 victims would be remembered “no matter how many years pass“. The whole country shares their loss, he said.

This is never an easy day, but it is especially difficult for all of you, the families of nearly 3,000 innocents who lost their lives… But no matter how many years pass, no matter how many times we come together on this hallowed ground, know this: That you will never be alone, your loved ones will never be forgotten. They will endure in the hearts of our nation…

The breadth of his solemn undertaking lost some of its majesty, in our view, when Obama  added that

I’ve always said our fight is with al Qaeda and its affiliates, not with Islam or any other religion… This country was built as a beacon of freedom and tolerance.

The problem with that is that no one serious or sane is claiming America is, or ought to be, at war with Islam, whatever such a statement might mean.

But to assert that the threat comes from this amorphous thing called al Qaeda, and then to silence suggestions to the contrary with a reminder of America’s devotion to freedom, is to miss the point. Terrorism is a vast, growing threat today. It’s more than a threat; it steals the innocent lives of ordinary people’s children literally every day of the year. Plainly, the terrorists are not all Moslems. And Islam does not equate to terrorism. But to ignore the ties between myriads of exponents of Islam and of Islamism on one hand, and the proliferating network of lethal and hideously well-armed terrorist groups on every continent on the other hand, is simply foolish. Or dishonest.

Still, it’s good to hear one of the world’s most influential voices speaking about the enduring nature of a nation’s memory of its terror victims.

Here in Israel, we (the bloggers behind This Ongoing War) waged a campaign for years to require the city fathers in the most important, the most central, Jewish city in the world to remember Jerusalem’s victims of terror. Here is a shortened version of an essay Frimet published seven years ago. We hope you agree that it still makes some strikingly relevant points in 2012.

Keeping Murdered Israeli Children in Our Hearts Frimet Roth  FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, May 12, 2005

Not since the Holocaust have so many innocent Jewish children been murdered as in the last four and a half years. Not a handful or a few dozen, but hundreds of precious children, targeted by an enemy who saw in their murders nothing but an effective political tactic.

Once a year on Israel’s official Day of Remembrance, the Jewish people accord these children a moment or two of attention. At other times, it seems to me, little thought is given to them and to their deaths. The parents and siblings they left behind—left to grapple for eternity with the daily, grinding pain of loss—get even less.

Some would argue that this is natural and normal. Would I prefer for everyone to pause once every day to remember them? Perhaps that would be asking too much. But there are reasons to think more often of those children, holding no rocks in their hands, having no explosives strapped to their waists, harboring only kindness in their hearts.

This is a particularly appropriate time to do so with Palestinian and Western pressure mounting daily for Israel to release even more Palestinian prisoners.The advocates of prisoner releases like to equate the situation here with South Africa and Ireland. They too “had blown each other up for years” as we have, was the way Amit Leshem, of Jerusalem’s Van Leer Institute, put it. Once released those terrorists embarked on peaceful, productive paths, he wrote recently.

Then there are the expectations of the Palestinian people who demand that Abu Mazen deliver the goods—meaning that every last prisoner goes free, or else. Israel, it is maintained, must bolster Abu Mazen’s regime with a full release or else face the overthrow of Abu Mazen and an end to the current calm.

But let’s back up just a bit. There are crucial differences between our situation and those of South Africa and Ireland. In this region, we are not “blowing each other up.” One side is doing all the blowing up, while the other side takes steps to protect its cities, buses and restaurants. The South African and Irish prisoners exited the prison gates into civilian, peaceful, unarmed environments. The Palestinian prisoners we release march straight into the arms of their terrorist compatriots who have been re-grouping and re-arming during the current lull. The statistics about past Palestinian prisoner releases are depressing: no fewer than 60 percent of them committed fresh terror acts after their release. Few have expressed even the slightest remorse over their past… 

In February, my husband, Arnold, represented Israel at an international conference of terror victims. A New York Times reporter at the event, Glenn Collins, wrote that “the families of the victims of the 2001 terror attacks have been a powerful force in Washington and New York.” He cited numerous contributions they have made through their “vocal persistence and moral suasion” in government reactions to the Sept. 11 attacks, in subsequent intelligence actions, in memorial plan decisions for the World Trade Center site and in their joining international victims of terror for support and “to discredit global terrorism itself.” (As far as I know, the only local coverage was a short Associated Press report reprinted in the Jerusalem Post.)

The opinions of Israeli victims are generally not heard. We have never been consulted regarding the planned terror-victims memorial site in Jerusalem, a project that has been stalled since its first mention by the municipality three years ago. On the rare occasions when we have raised our voices, for example at International Court of Justice hearings in The Hague in February 2003, we have come in for media criticism and even ridicule.

We Israelis live nearly-normally with the continued threat of terror attacks on our doorsteps. We are simultaneously anxious to reach diplomatic agreements with the Palestinian Authority. Many Israelis think we can only meet these challenges by first forgetting the tragic magnitude of our losses. Prime Minister Sharon is among them. In an optimistic speech shortly after Abu Mazen’s victory at the polls, he declared: “We must forget our pain.”

Must we? I believe that in order to achieve a lasting peace we must, on the contrary, remember our pain. When Sharon considers concessions to the Palestinians, as he has and will doubtless continue to, he must conjure up images of our innocent fallen. When he signs the next Palestinian prisoner release list he ought to remember one or two names of the hundreds of murdered Jewish children of the past four and a half years. Only if he does will the decisions he takes be grounded in reality. Only then can we be assured he is acting with our best interests uppermost in his mind.

Nobody wants peace and calm here more than the parents who know what losing a child is like. It is the continued grief and remembering that will spur us to strive to achieve that goal.

Seven years later, here is the updated status. A memorial plaque [see this article from 2003] eventually was placed on the wall of the building that had formerly housed central Jerusalem’s Sbarro restaurant. That is the site of the terrorist bombing outrage that took the lives of our daughter Malki and fifteen others. That plaque did not go up without a great deal of effort and frustration… but it did go up and it remains there.

More than a thousand of the worst terrorists ever to have been captured, tried and imprisoned by the state of Israel were unjustly freed last October [a reminder here], including the woman who planned and helped to execute the Sbarro massacre. Many have already rejoined the ranks of active, murder-minded terrorists [some details here].

As for a central memorial for Jerusalem’s many hundreds of victims of terror, there has been a stream of promises, press releases and statements, delivered to us personally and published in the news media, about land having been set aside (notably a publicized undertaking in 2002 during Ehud Olmert’s term as Jerusalem’s mayor that a site had been set aside for a memorial park in the vicinity of the Allenby Compound -source here).

But despite the promises and the committees and the press releases and the bombastic speeches, as of today there is nothing.

About the Author: Frimet and Arnold Roth began writing and speaking publicly soon after the murder of their fifteen year-old daughter Malki Z"L in the Jerusalem Sbarro massacre, August 9, 2001 (Chaf Av, 5761). They have both been, and are, frequently interviewed for radio, television and the print media, including CNN, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Al-Jazeera, and others. Their blog This Ongoing War deals with the under-appreciated price of living in a society afflicted by terrorism which, they contend, means the entire world. Frimet is a native of Queens, NY while her husband was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. They brought their family to settle in Jerusalem in 1988. They co-founded the Malki Foundation in 2001 and are deeply involved in its work as volunteers. They can be reached at thisoingoingwar@gmail.com .


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