Malki, in October you would have turned 25, if only… if only you hadn’t stopped in at the Sbarro restaurant in the center of Jerusalem with your best friend, Michal, that hot summer afternoon of August 9, 2001.
You were on your way to a camp counselors’ meeting but had some time to spare. At 2 p.m., while you both stood on line, waiting to order, a Palestinian Arab man finished his meal, stood up and detonated the explosives concealed in his guitar case. Fifteen men, women and children perished.
In recent weeks, the pain we have endured for 10 years has become even more intense. We can thank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for that. Despite our hand-delivered entreaties to keep your murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, in prison — to which Netanyahu never responded — he freed her in the prisoner exchange deal that led to the release of Gilad Shalit. The letter of “explanation” he claimed publicly in October to have mailed to all the affected terror victim families has, for some reason, not yet reached us.
Malki, you never saw your murderer. By her own account, Tamimi scouted Jerusalem for days before she selected the target. She then transported a 10 kilogram bomb and led the suicide bomber to the site. Later, in prison, she smiled for the cameras when she learned that not three (as she had thought) but eight children were among the victims. She proclaimed repeatedly, “I am not sorry for what I did…. I would do it again.”
The judge who sentenced her to 16 life terms appreciated the depths of Tamimi’s evil. In handing down the sentence, he recommended that she never be included in any prisoner exchange. But our prime minister, rejecting those considered rulings, repatriated this woman to her father and brother in Jordan — and assured the public that she had been “exiled.”
Adding salt to our wounds is an avalanche of revelations about the Shalit saga, which was unleashed the moment Gilad returned home.
Ronen Cohen, who recently stepped down from leading the counter-terrorism unit in military intelligence, spoke to Haaretz and Israeli television on the day that Shalit was freed. He declared that the handling of Shalit’s captivity “was a resounding failure of the IDF. There are no other words to describe it. The IDF never took responsibility for the soldier and did not even set up a team to deal with bringing him back. They simply passed it on to the Shin Bet [security service].”
Cohen continued, “It may also be that during [Operation Cast Lead in December 2008] it was still possible to do something under the cover of the chaos of the fighting, but it was not done.”
When asked in the television interview about the government’s assertions that it had insufficient intelligence on Gilad, Cohen countered: “Intelligence is not passive but must be activated. It never was.”
Malki, when I heard this I cried bitterly. Our leaders had betrayed you and us yet again.
Additional critics of the mass release of murderers have now come out of the woodwork. Anshel Pfeffer wrote in Haaretz: “Shalit’s capture… was a colossal operational blunder, at just about every level…. His eventual release was a victory primarily for the other side’s negotiators.”
When Maariv journalist Ben Caspit spoke to Yitzhak Mordechai, a former defense minister and operating commander of the southern, central and northern commands, Mordechai told him that it was only when the worsening condition of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel became an issue in Gaza that Hamas was willing to negotiate.
Caspit then asked a question that haunts us, Malki. Referring to the astonishingly indulgent treatment that had been accorded to terrorists in the Israeli prison system, he wondered what would have happened if the authorities hadn’t waited so long to take away the perks that turned these prisoners’ incarceration into the equivalent of summer camp. “Too bad no one thought to explore this option in real time,” Caspit said.
These disclosures have hardly had an impact on the majority of Israelis. Some 80% bought Netanyahu’s absurd assertion that releasing 1,027 unrepentant, tried and convicted terrorists in return for one soldier is a “victory,” a show of our “moral superiority.”
It is nothing less than suicidal to place our trust in a leader who has sacrificed his nation’s security and its judicial system for political gain.
Malki, please know that we have not given up the fight. We will seek an investigation into the disastrous handling of the Shalit affair. We still hope for an apology from our prime minister for his role in this travesty of justice.
Your murderer has told Jordanian reporters, “All I dream about now is to live with Nezar [another freed terrorist], settle down and raise our future children.”
We will not rest until her dreams are dashed and she is back in prison. We will pursue that goal not to seek revenge or to ease our relentless longing for you, but simply because it is the only just and sane thing for a democratic state to do.
Frimet Roth is a freelance writer based in Jerusalem. After her daughter’s murder, in 2001, she and her husband founded the Malki Foundation (www.kerenmalki.org), which provides support for Israeli families of all faiths who care for a special needs child.