The Sbarro bombing of 2001 accompanies, or more precisely haunts me always, even after 22 years. But that Hamas terror attack, which robbed me and my family of our precious Malki, ought to be remembered by the Israeli public as well, even those for whom the 16 murders had no direct impact.
It teaches us a lot about our leaders, their thought processes, priorities, and concern, or rather lack of it, for us – their constituents.
The lessons to be learned began some time before the attack.
The Sbarro bombing could have been prevented
In the early afternoon of August 9, 2001, Ahlam Tamimi was leading her accomplice to Sbarro. My husband refers to Izz ad-Din Shuhayl Ahmad al-Masri as her human bomb. Days before, by Tamimi’s own account, she had scouted the city center for a site that would provide the largest number of religious Jewish women and children as targets. She had chosen well.
In a guitar case casually slung over his shoulder, Al-Masri carried 10 kilograms of explosives. Both terrorists wore touristy attire, and Tamimi was careful to speak in English to further dispel suspicion. Al-Masri, who did not know English, remained silent.
Days later, then-justice minister Meir Sheetrit disclosed on a TV news program, with no apparent shame or regret, that he and other government officials had been notified that Palestinian terrorists were circulating in the center of Jerusalem on August 9.
I recall hearing that officials had warned local hospitals of a possible imminent flood of victims. He said that police had been sent to scour the streets.
Sheetrit added that the government pleaded with then-Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat for assistance in thwarting the attack. I leave it to you to guess his response.
Presumably, they did not permit their own loved ones to meander through the city that day. But at no time were we – the residents of the city – alerted to the impending danger.
And so, when my precious 15-year-old child called me that day at 1 p.m. to tell me she was leaving her friend’s house in Ramot and heading by bus for a camp leaders’ meeting in Jerusalem, I thought nothing of it.
We concluded our chat, as was our custom, with “I love you.” For the last time.
Al-Masri entered the Sbarro pizzeria with ease because there was no security guard at the door inspecting customers’ bags. At the same time, Tamimi fled to safety, according to plan. Moments later, surrounded by his many unsuspecting victims, Al-Masri blew himself up.
On August 10, the stationing of guards at shop entrances became compulsory. The Sbarro bombing had shaken up our policymakers.
Another change apparently triggered by the attack was the subsequent response of Israeli authorities to intelligence on a terrorist on the loose. On more than one occasion, entire cities were locked down and residents warned to shelter in place.
At times, I fantasize what might have happened if then-prime minister Ariel Sharon or Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert or Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy had exercised the same good sense on August 9.
Instead, they were coldly intent on pursuing business as usual.
Israel’s leaders disregard the victims of terror
The stream of visitors to our home during the shiva mourning period is mostly a blur. However, I do know that only one dignitary, then-Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, arrived. No other official, decision-maker or politician of any kind deigned to visit. Their absence spoke volumes.
This dismissive attitude toward the victims of terror has persisted over the years as the following events illustrate.
The release of Ahlam Tamimi in the Gilad Schalit deal – despite the 16 life sentences handed her by the military court – was an appalling move. The return to active terrorist duty by many of those who were released leaves no doubt about that.
No less appalling was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ignoring our written pleas to delete Tamimi from his list of 1,027 terrorist releases; or his mendacious claim that he had sent all affected terror victims personal letters of explanation and apology for the deal.
From many inquiries, I learned that my husband and I were not the only ones who never received his purported letter. It is apparent that no one did. When I called the Prime Minister’s Office to ask what had become of them, an aide insisted that the letters had personally been delivered to the post office. A colleague I hear in the background urged her to add that “hundreds of letters had been delivered.”
Netanyahu publicly insisted that his banishment of Tamimi to Jordan under the terms of the deal constituted “exile.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Tamimi, born and raised in Jordan, was actually returned to the welcoming arms of her family and homeland.
That is how victims of the Sbarro bombing have been treated.
We are now forced to endure the reality that Tamimi is a free and adored heroine protected by King Abdullah II of Jordan. The US Department of Justice charged her under seal in 2013, on the basis that two of those murdered (the number rose to three in May 2023) were Americans, triggering a law that requires the US to prosecute the terrorist.
Despite Jordan and the US signing and ratifying an extradition treaty in 1995, Abdullah refuses to comply. And where do our own leaders stand on this issue?
Netanyahu hasn’t surprised us one iota. True to form, he has instructed American Jewish leaders to refrain from any involvement in this standoff. We have learned from reliable sources that Netanyahu does not want our child’s murderer – whose freedom he enabled – to ever be tried in a US court.
The torture of seeing your child’s murderer escape justice and gloat about her murderous “achievement” on TV and social media is indescribable. The knowledge that your own leaders don’t object to that development, raises the pain to a deplorable level.