‘Malki Loved Israel With A Pure And Passionate Love’: An Interview with Arnold Roth About the Daughter He Lost to Terrorism
On August 9, 2001, Malka Chana (Malki) Roth stopped by the Sbarro restaurant on the corner of King George Street and Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem. A suicide terrorist wearing an explosive belt with nails, nuts and bolts entered and detonated his bomb. Fifteen Israelis were killed, including Malki; 107 were injured.
Against the backdrop of the Netanyahu government’s decision to release 104 Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons, I spoke with Malki’s father, Arnold Roth.
David Nesenoff: Can you share with us that tragic day of twelve years ago and its aftermath?
Arnold Roth: Malki was on her way to a planning meeting for the summer camp of Ezra, a religious Zionist youth movement here in Israel, where she was to be a madrichah. She and her friend Michal decided to stop off for a slice of pizza. According to one report, there was a young man with a guitar case who placed himself almost right next to the two girls. We know that Malki was happily tapping out a text message on her cell phone at the moment the guitarist destroyed our world.
As if to prove how truly different our values and perceptions are from theirs, the Arabs created a physical homage to the Sbarro massacre six weeks later in Nablus. Published photographs and reports show that they created a grotesque replica of the pizzeria, complete with a “kasher” sign above the entrance, as well as body parts and adulatory photographs of the killer. For them, this was a victory to savor.
In the days immediately after the act of calculated mass murder that stole Malki’s life from her and from the family who loved her so much, we were flooded with messages of sympathy and support. Some came from public figures. We have tried to engage with some of those public figures in the years since then in order to defend the rights to justice and fairness, which, we thought, were the entitlement of families like ours. To say the least, it has been a dispiriting experience, particularly since 2011.
First, the woman who engineered the Sbarro massacre was let loose and given a triumphant welcome in the land of her birth, Jordan. This was an outcome we had fought to prevent for six or seven years, as soon as we became aware of its possibility, so seeing her smiling and being cheered by those who appreciated her for what she had done to the Jews was painful for us in the extreme.
Then a year later, in June 2012, her fiancé was given permission that, in the explicit terms of his conditional release, should never have been given. He is also a convicted murderer who was serving a life sentence right up until the Gilad Shalit deal. When he was set free, his freedom was limited by Israel to the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. But he wanted to be with the fiancée he barely knew and whom he had met either once or never – the reports on this are vague. She is also his cousin. We found out this was about to happen, and my wife and I immediately filed an application to the High Court of Justice in Jerusalem demanding that the government stand by its own refusal to permit him to cross over into Jordan to unite with the female murderer.
The government’s lawyers finally responded to our lawyers some days after we filed the legal papers. But to our dismay it was to say: Oops, he left for Jordan three days ago, and we let him. I think of this a great deal when my thoughts go back to those messages of solidarity and support that officials sent us during the shiva.
You’ve formed a group of bereaved families. Who are they? What does the group do?
The Bereaved Families for Peace and Justice group is an ad hoc collective of concerned individuals. Four of us, friends and acquaintances from past years, formed it in the last few weeks to give a voice to the immense frustrations that welled up when we saw with horror that the decision to free the terrorists into the arms of the Abbas people looked like it was becoming real.
We only managed to reach out to a relative handful of other bereaved families in the short time between deciding to write to Secretary Kerry and the delivery of that letter to the State Department. I think we will have many more families, victims of the terrorists, when we do this again in the future.
All of us are ordinary people with lives, with families, with jobs, with the usual problems and challenges. What brings us together is not politics, not a shared outlook on religion, not a common mission to solve the Arab/Israel conflict. We share a deep pain, each in our own individual ways, and a deep sense that injustice is being done over our heads and if we don’t speak out, then no one else will.
Your readers might be surprised to know how much I have discovered that I share with an Irish Catholic father whose son was murdered. Or with a Basque woman whose brother’s life ended in a car bombing. I don’t mean this figuratively, by the way. It’s literally true that we share so much, to our mutual surprise.
The language and religious and cultural and age barriers matter less, it turns out, than the struggle to cope with living after a terrorist picked out your son or daughter or brother and pulled the trigger. Many of the questions we ask of ourselves and of the Ribbono Shel Olam are essentially the same: Why us? Why my child? How is it that others in the vicinity were spared? Were they more worthy? Less sinful? And why do my neighbors seem to understand so little of how this feels to me?
Is there any terrorist being released who has Malki’s blood on his hands directly or indirectly?
All the terrorists known to be behind the Sbarro massacre were released from prison two years ago in the Shalit transaction. The one exception is Abdallah Barghouti, convicted on his own admission of murdering 66 Israelis, and he is not included in the so-called pre-Oslo releases. He was on a months-long hunger strike in his Israeli prison cell, and then in an Israeli hospital in Afula, before extracting major concessions from the Israel Prison Service.
It’s reasonable to assume a case will be made at some stage, probably sooner rather than later, that he too needs to be handed over to Hamas, of which he is said to be a high-ranking leader, in the name of peace and reconciliation. We will of course fight tooth and nail to prevent that from ever happening.
How personal is the story of Israel to you?
My wife, Frimet, and I spoke about aliyah on our very first date, nearly four decades ago. Living in Israel and building our lives among other Jews in the place where Jewish values make the most sense, and that Jews have always understood to be the natural place for Jewish life to be lived, was a priority for us even before we became a couple and then a family.
Tell us about Malki.
Malki’s love of Israel owed nothing to her views about the Palestinians, the Middle East conflict or Islam, because for the most part she had none. We do know from the diary in which she daily recorded her most private thoughts and fears, and which Frimet and I began reading only during the shiva, that she was deeply agitated by Arab terror. It was on her mind a great deal. Her notes told us what she always kept private: that each loss of life in a piguah, a terrorist outrage, brought her literally to tears, made it nearly impossible to focus on her studies. She was simply incapable of comprehending the fanatical hatred behind the horrifying acts.
Malki was a powerfully, unstoppably, optimistic 15-year-old. We know from her friends that her wonderful smile almost never left her face, that her love and affection for friends and strangers were inspirational and infectious.
Malki loved Israel, and especially Jerusalem, with a pure and passionate love. Born in Melbourne, Australia, this was the home to which she was brought before she was three years old. This was the land which the Almighty had promised to the Jewish people and to which she felt a powerful connection.
What is the Malki Foundation?
After Malki’s murder, we were left during the shiva, in the grip of our grief, wondering what to do in Malki’s memory. The details are too many. I will say it simply. We decided to establish in her memory a fund, a not-for-profit that would benefit children with severe disabilities and help their families. Malki’s exceptional devotion to every disabled child she encountered in her brief life, and her love of chesed, were our inspiration.
She had volunteered to care for, befriend and nurture disabled children everywhere: at home with her own profoundly affected sister Haya; at the home of a neighbor, a single mother raising a dying disabled son; in school with learning-disabled girls; at the Etgarim camp with special-needs youngsters where she spent her last week in this world, and in her beloved youth movement, Ezra.
We prepared the papers to establish an Israeli not-for-profit in her name and the registration papers came out on September 11, 2001. We collected them an hour before the events of 9/11 happened. We have always understood that the work of Keren Malki and the phenomenon of global terrorism, what we call this ongoing war (that’s the name of the blog my wife and I write) are tightly connected. Keren Malki (www.malkifoundation.org) has been operating now for twelve years and has helped thousands of families who care for a special-needs child.
Malki’s love of chesed is honored every single day by the work done in her name. It’s not a comfort, in case anyone is wondering, but it is one of the things that keep us focused on life and the future.
About the Author: Dr. David Nesenoff is a rabbi, author and filmmaker who achieved international fame for his video of the late White House correspondent Helen Thomas saying Jews should leave Israel and go back to Germany and Poland. He currently lectures around the world to Jewish communities and campuses and can be contacted at Nesenoff@Gmail.com.
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