Lessons from the life and death of a Palestinian Arab terrorist

American Jews could have done something about Nayef Zayed.

Att'y Stephen M. Flatow,

OpEds Steve Flatow
Steve Flatow

A Palestinian terrorist who murdered a yeshiva student was found dead in the Palestinian Authority's embassy in Bulgaria last week. Before we all turn the page and forget the names of both the killer and his victim, it's worthwhile pausing to consider some lessons from this episode.

Naif Zaid ambushed and murdered a young yeshiva student, Eliahu Amedi, in Jerusalem in 1986. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. But it did not take him long to figure out how to manipulate the system. In the spring of 1990, Zaid announced that he was going on a hunger strike. After forty days, the Israeli authorities transferred him to a hospital in Bethlehem.

Being situated in an all-Arab city created an opportunity for Zaid to escape, which he soon did--from the hospital and from Israel. By 1994, Zaid was living in Bulgaria. There he married, fathered three children, and generally enjoyed life as Eliahu Amedi never will.

While Zaid was enjoying his new life in Europe, Amedi's name was forgotten by everyone except his immediate family and friends. And that, sadly, is what happens to almost all victims of Palestinian terror.

But an unusual development brought the story back into the headlines in December 2015. Apparently fearing that Israeli agents were about to capture him, Zaid took shelter in the Palestinian Authority's embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital.

Israel asked the PA to hand him over, in accordance with Annex IV, Article 2, Par.7(f)(1) of the Oslo II agreement that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the PA signed in 1995. That clause specifically obliges the PA to comply with every Israeli request for extradition. But the PA refused, just as it has refused Israel's dozens of other requests for the extradition of terrorists.

For more than two months, the yeshiva student's murderer remained in the PA embassy, eluding justice--and nobody did anything.

Of course, in most instances of Palestinian terrorism, there's not much that American Jews can do. We rely on the Israeli security authorities to pursue the attackers and bring them to justice. We are merely spectators, hoping that the Israelis will catch the bad guys and finding ourselves powerless to do much beyond collect tzedaka for the victim's family.

But the case of Naif Zaid was different. The pursuit of justice left the security realm and entered the political arena. Once the PA refused to hand him over, the question became how to put pressure on the PA to change its mind. And that's where American Jewish protests could have played a role.

There are those in the Jewish world who speak out forcefully when yeshiva students are threatened with being drafted into the Israeli army, or when yeshivas are in danger of receiving less government funding. Why weren't those voices heard in protest against the PA sheltering the murderer of a yeshiva student?

There was so much that could have been done to put pressure on the Bulgarian authorities to intervene.

-There could have been a rally outside the Bulgarian Consulate in New York City.

-A delegation of Jewish leaders could have visited the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington.

-Jewish groups that sponsor tours to Europe could have dropped Bulgaria from their itinerary. (Recall how the Jewish boycott of Mexico in 1975 forced the Mexicans to withdraw their endorsement of Zionism-is-racism.)

And there was so much that could have been done to put pressure on the Palestinian Authority. There could have been a petition to President Obama, urging him to pressure the PA to surrender Naif. Members of Congress could have been mobilized to reassess U.S. aid the PA. Jewish peace activists could have announced that they would cut off contacts with Palestinian leaders until Zaid was surrendered.

The story of Naif Zaid has an unusual ending. One day last week, he was found dead in the PA's embassy. News reports claimed he was involved an unspecified "altercation" in the embassy. The Palestinians are--naturally--accusing Israel of killing him. The truth may never be known, and the names of Zaid and Amedi will soon vanish from the news.

Still, it's only a matter of time before some similar situation arises again, and American Jews will again face the choice between silence and activism. Let's hope they make the right choice.

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney in New Jersey, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995