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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

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).

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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