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Now that Gilad Shalit is home, it is time for Israel to have a national discussion about the price of redeeming captive soldiers and the rights of terror victims.
There is an American law, originally called the Koby Mandell Act, that established an office in the Justice Department with the aim of keeping American citizens who are victims of Palestinian terrorism informed and empowered. Perhaps Americans, leveraging that law, can help Israel start the discussion about passing a bill in the Knesset that demands that terror victims’ families be accorded rights in the judicial process.
Sadly, Israel has not paid enough attention to the families of terror victims whose murderers were released. Since Shalit’s release there has been little discussion in the media about those families.
There is an official Israeli government list of released killers but all it says is the name and date of birth of the killer, when he was arrested and what is referred to mysteriously as the solution: where they were sent after their release. The official list says nothing about who was killed. The official list disregards the victims.
As a mother I understand the Shalit family’s insistent campaign to release their son and I would have done the same. But as a citizen I believe it is the job of the government to insist there is also justice for the victims’ families.
The victims’ families must have a voice in any future discussion of prisoner “exchanges.” They are the ones who are traumatized when terrorists are released to celebrate in the streets, to mock the pain of bereaved families, to murder again. All you have to do is view the TV clip where you see the smiling face of the woman who planned the Sbarro suicide murderer when she learns the number of children she killed, and you see the chilling price of this release.
No family should have to go through the hell the Shalit family went through – but at the same time, the government must protect the rights of victims. It is time to pass a law in the Knesset that institutes a terror victims’ rights program in Israel, advocating for the rights of terror victims and their families. There is already a victims’ rights program for criminal law. It is time to extend that protection to terror victims, even in matters of state security.
Further, we need to discuss how Israel can continue as a society where justice is jettisoned so quickly. As a result, the Dutch orphans of the Sbarro attack feel they have to leave Israel because the memory of their parents’ deaths, and the deaths of three of their siblings who were 14, 4 and 2 when they were murdered, is mocked and diminished.
As the mother of Koby Mandell, who was murdered by terrorists, and the co- founder of the Koby Mandell Foundation, which assists families who are bereaved by terror, I work with many of the families whose murderers were released in the recent prisoner “exchange.” We run ongoing support groups for the mothers and summer camps for over 400 bereaved children.
I want to tell you the stories of terror victims’ families so that you will understand the need for families to be included in any future decisions: The pain of the families at seeing their loved ones’ murderers free is indescribable. And the fact that government didn’t inform them before, didn’t prepare them in any way, is reprehensible.
Avichai Levi and Aviad Monstour were 10th graders, murdered in June 2005 on a Friday afternoon. Aviad was on his way home carrying a cake to celebrate his parents’ anniversary. They were both shot at a bus stop. Nechemi Sagron was injured in the same attack. Three months later, the same terrorists killed Yosi Shok, near Beit Hagai.
Then on October 16, 2005, while Kinneret Mandell, 23, her cousin Matat Rosenfeld, and Oz Ben Meir, who was 14, were waiting for a ride home at a bus stop, the same terrorists drove by and shot and killed them.
Because Nechemi Sagron survived his injuries, he was able to help the police create a sketch of the murderers, and based on that evidence, they were able to apprehend the three killers, all from Hebron.
The trial took more than a year, with delays and requests for more evidence.
The families were present at the trials. Chavy Levi, mother of 15-year-old Avichai, says, “The trial was its own form of hell, having to face the killers.” The terrorists were sentenced to six life sentences. Chavi says she felt a measure of justice had been served.
That is, until her son’s killers were released. The government didn’t have the courtesy to alert them. Chavi told me that when friends told her they’d seen the killers’ names on the list of prisoners to be released, she was incredulous. She couldn’t leave her bed during the holiday of Sukkot, she was so devastated. Her children are confused, angry and disappointed. The murderers served four years of their six life sentences.
She feels disappointed and betrayed. “There’s hysteria in my family now. The kids are a mess. All the trauma returns and there isn’t support.”
The Koby Mandell Foundation is now setting up a support group for families whose murderers were set free.
Also set free were the murderers of the Dickstein family. Yaakov and Chanah and 10-year-old Shuvael were shot in their car when they were driving to their family on Friday afternoon, leavening eight orphans. Elazar Leibowitz, 21, was murdered in the same incident.
Who else was released? Ahlam Tamimi, who helped plan the suicide bombing of the Sbarro restaurant in the middle of downtown Jerusalem, carried the 20 pound bomb in a guitar case, accompanying the murderer in a taxi, speaking English to blend in as tourist. She was released to a hero’s welcome, as she predicted she would be. Fifteen were killed and 130 injured in that attack. The Heyman family lost their pregnant daughter Shoshana, their only child. Another victim who was then a young mother is still in a vegetative state ten years later.
Other victims: 25-year-old Shalom Har Melech was murdered on August 29, 2003 when he was driving with his wife, Limor. Terrorists opened fire on their car. Limor was injured and gave birth on the same day. The little girl born that day has the same birthday as her father’s yahrzeit.
The woman who seduced 16 year old Ofir Rahumon on the Internet, persuading him to meet her and then driving him to his death – she’s being released too.
Take a look at MFA.gov.il (the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website), which documents the list of terror attacks. Read it and weep. You will be appalled, both by the names of so many of the victims whose killers were released and the extent of the loss and trauma Israel has suffered.
The extent of terrorism during the Intifada is unprecedented. It is time for the Israeli government to wake up to the fact that victims of terror also deserve justice.
Perhaps there’s a similarity to the way Israel once treated Holocaust victims who came from Europe after the war. Many Israelis then didn’t want to hear the survivors’ stories. They didn’t want to associate with victims. Israel is a society that values the hero, the soldier – not the victim.
Or perhaps Israelis don’t want to remember the victims of terror because they don’t want to think about the lives that were lost, the ongoing fear and trauma, the feeling of being in danger and on guard at every moment.
They don’t want to remember being victims.
Most Israelis applauded when Gilad Shalit was released; Jews place a high value on human life. I also was happy to see him home. How can one not be?
But what about the value of the lives of terror victims? And what about the value of the lives of the bereaved families who have to bear witness not only to the loss of their loved ones, but now to the injustice that was perpetrated against them, albeit in the name of the sanctity of life?
Israel must pass a law establishing a terror victims’ rights program that protects the rights of terror victims and their families, empowering them so that no further prisoner exchanges occur without their voices being heard.
Victims in criminal cases are allowed to make a statement before sentencing and are supposed to be kept informed of court proceedings. Terror victims should be accorded the same rights, allowed to give an impact statement in court and be kept informed of sentencing and judicial procedures, including clemency proceedings.
Sherri Mandell is the co-founder of the Koby Mandell Foundation (kobymandell.org) which runs healing programs for victims of terror and tragedy in Israel. She is also the author of the book “The Blessing of a Broken Heart.”
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