This interview by Michal Ish Shalom first appeared in the Hebrew weekly Mishpacha, August 24, 2017. The English translation by Rochel Sylvetsky appears here with the Roth family's permission, who made certain changes in the original text
Malki Roth was murdered in what is called the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing 16 years ago. Her parents are fighting to see that her terrorist murderer, against whom the US has issued an extradition request, is brought to justice. The family hopes the US presses for extradition, is disappointed that Jordan does not honor its legal obligations to the US, and blames Israeli government figures for not caring about families of terror victims.
Arnold and Frimet Roth, the parents of Malki Hy"D, murdered in the Sbarro restaurant suicide bombing attack 16 years ago, were carefully optimistic on the day after the Purim holiday this year.
A delegation from the US Department of Justice came to Jerusalem to inform them that the United States was about to make an announcement later that day: a request for extradition had been presented to the Jordanian government. Jordan, which signed an extradition treaty with the United States in 1995, was being requested to extradite Ahlam al-Tamimi, the terrorist who planned and executed the suicide bombing in which their daughter was murdered. Tamimi was being added that day to the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list.
The Roths had initiated this process by meeting with US officials in Washington five years earlier – in February 2012. The Jordanians had been served with the extradition request months earlier, right before the High Holidays, and Interpol was involved. But now in mid-March 2017, the US were going to publicize the extradition request, leading the Roths to believe that justice was going to be done at last.
Malki, born in Melbourne Australia, came to Israel as a young child. Her mother is an American citizen, and as such, could obtain American citizenship for her daughter. That was not a significant part of Malki's too-short life, all of it lived in Israel. She grew up in Jerusalem, a happy, kindhearted teen, especially attuned to special needs chidren – her youngest sister Haya Elisheva suffered serious neurological impairment when she was a year old, a fact which caused Malki to volunteer with such children unstintingly.
On that unforgettable, bitter day, the 20th of Av (August 9, 2001), Malki went over to a friend's house.
"See you later, have a good time," said her mother Frimet, whose eyes were shut due to a severe migraine; she couldn’t even open them before her daughter left the house. "How I regret not looking at her that morning because the last time I saw her was the day before it happened," she says painfully. The loss of her daughter is palpable throughout our conversation; it gets harder to bear as the years pass.
Malki called from her friend's house to say that she was going to a get-together in the Talpiyot neighborhood and received her mother's permission to go. "I love you," the conversation ended - three words fated to become the last ones Frimet and her beloved daughter would exchange with one another.
And then – suddenly the terrible news - a major terrorist suicide bombing in the middle of downtown Jerusalem. Frimet’s thoughts were instantly with locating her children.
"I worried about them, because they left without taking a mobile phone. Malki had one with her, so I was less worried, " recalls Frimet. "Besides, she said she was going to Talpiyot and I knew that she would only be in town for as long as it took to switch buses."
Malki's siblings were located quickly – they were safe. Malki did not answer her mobile phone.
Anyone who remembers the chilling "routine" of the period in which suicide bomber attacks took place with horrendous frequency, knows that the cellular phone connections were always down, for security reasons, in an area in which an attack occurred. Since everyone had become used to that happening, they urged Frimet not to worry.
But a good deal of time passed, and then it turned out that Malki had never reached the get–together she planned to attend, nor did her friend Michal – who also could not be found.
"I still didn't get it. She was not even supposed to be in Sbarro," says Frimet. She and Michal's mother, along with Frimet's soldier son, a newly-enlisted hesdernik (in the 5 year yeshiva-army program) who had returned home to help, decided to go to Shaarei Zedek Hospital to look for their daughters.
On the way there, corroboration came in: Malki had been at Sbarro, she had sent a text message to someone to meet her there - a meeting that never took place.
"I began to scream," recalls Frimet. "I realized it was all over. At the hospital, we separated and each one of us searched for her own daughter. Michal's mother found her daughter still alive, but we did not find our Malki. In the office into which I was taken, they had me speak to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute so I could describe her, and for some reason they said there was no one who fitted my description."
This unbearable day continued, with family and friends searching other hospitals. Much later that night, on the advice of social workers in another of Jerusalem’s hospitals, two of Malki’s older brothers went there with a national insurance social worker.
"At 2 a.m. they called to tell us they had identified her."
Her friend Michal had been found barely alive, but she didn't make it and those were her last moments in this world. Malki and Michal, "beloved and pleasant during their lifetimes”, (as King David said of King Saul and his son) were buried side by side in Jerusalem's Har Hamenuchot cemetery.
That day marked the start of the Roth family's struggle. To memorialize Malki, they soon created the Malki Foundation [www.kerenmalki.org] which helps fund treatments for seriously disabled children who live at home and are cared for by their parents. Parents can choose among occupational therapy, therapeutic horseback riding, speech therapy, physiotherapy and hydrotherapy with 85% of the costs covered by the fund. It also lends special equipment to those children via a partnership with the Yad Sarah organization.
But along with the generous deeds associated with Malki's memory, the Roth family is engaged in fighting to have the terrorists brought to justice. This struggle is focused on Tamimi, the daughter of an infamous riot-inciting Arab family. Tamimi was a communications student at Bir Zeit University who was born and raised in Jordan and had come to Israel to do her post-high school studies. She became Hamas’ first female terrorist.
Some days before the Sbarro attack, Tamimi tried to carry out an attack on a smaller scale, which failed because there were not enough explosives in the bomb she used. That made her prepare the Sbarro attack more carefully. Her press card (she did part-time work for a TV station in Ramallah) gave her free and easy access to Jerusalem. In recent years she has described with chilling lack of emotion how she looked for a place where she could murder as many… women and children as possible. She found it in one of the fast food places at one of the most congested intersections in Jerusalem.
Tamimi hid the bomb inside a guitar case, passing right through the IDF checkpoint on Jerusalem’s northern edge and along Jaffa Road with her lethal weapon – the suicide bomber. The two were dressed like ordinary English-speaking tourists and succeeded in looking completely harmless. She brought the suicide bomber to the Sbarro entrance and told him to wait until she got far enough away. She wanted to live.
"My daughter played guitar and flute. She played the classical flute beautifully and was in Jerusalem’s youth orchestra," Frimet said sadly. Malki was right next to the terrorist when he blew himself up. She probably stood near him, thinking: “Here is another music lover like me with a guitar on his back.”
Tamimi worked as a TV news-reader and in that evening’s bulletin impassively reported the terrorist attack - the attack she herself had just perpetrated.
There seems to be no limit to the evil with which the Roth family has to deal. Ahlam Tamimi, who continues to this day to boast of her crimes, was arrested about a month after the bombing and sentenced to 16 life sentences. Officially, 15 human beings were murdered in the attack, but in reality, there are 16 dead, Frimet emphasizes. One critically wounded victim, a young mother, has never came out of a coma.
Tamimi was freed six years ago as part of the Shalit deal. "We also never heard a word from the Shalit family telling us that they understand our sorrow and pain," she adds.
Those 16 life sentences came to an end very quickly: Tamimi was freed six years ago as part of the Shalit deal.
"Even after Tamimi was freed, we did not get a response from anyone in the government, certainly not from the prime minister or his office," Frimet says, visibly upset. "Binyamin Netanyahu said publicly when announcing the Shalit deal: 'I sent letters to the families who were hit by terror'. That never happened. After his declaration, we took the initiative and called his office multiple times to ask which letters he meant, since we had never received one and neither had any of the many victim families we asked. The officials lied to us, making up stories about how the PM’s letters were in the mail. When I asked them how many letters were sent, and how come none of the terror stricken families I knew had received one, I heard someone in the background saying 'Tell her there were hundreds.' They simply fabricated an answer. No bereft family ever received a letter."
"We also never heard a word from the Shalit family telling us that they understand our sorrow and pain," she adds.
This, however, does not end the inexcusable behavior of the Israeli government towards terror-stricken families. After Tamimi was expelled to Jordan as part of the conditions for her release, she announced that she had become engaged to her cousin, another Shalit deal freed murderer-terrorist, another Tamimi. The conditions under which he was freed stipulated his remaining on the "West Bank" and not leaving the region. The conditions of her release were that she could never go there. The terrorist couple had the nerve to declare that the "cruel Israeli government" is the only factor preventing their marriage.
"We began to hear rumors that the government was about to allow him to cross into Jordan and we hired a lawyer to stop the government via an injunction. Wait a bit, the prime minister's office told us, don't take it in front of a High Court judge yet. We had the fleeting thought that the government was actually going to do something. While we were politely waiting, someone ensured the groom quickly crossed over the Allenby Bridge into Jordan.," she says. "They could not have allowed him to cross into Jordan without Netanyahu's authorization.”
Tamimi's wedding took place the following week. They flaunted it. It was a highly-publicized victory for them, covered live via several Jordanian TV stations and the social media.
And what about us? How do we look? Victory after victory. the government will never do anything about our ludicrous justice system.
Perhaps the next prime minister will be able to do something, she says with faint hopes.
“Now that the terrorist who murdered our daughter is a married woman and evidently the mother of a young child - although that has never been publicized - she continues to make fun of us. She is a popular speaker, tells the story of her atrocity with obvious pride, is a broadcaster and used her own globally-broadcast TV show to allow incarcerated terrorists to make contact with their families. Officially, terrorists in Israeli prisons are not permitted to view the Hamas channel that broadcasts her program, but we learned via our own sources that mobile phones have been smuggled into their cells enabling them to watch the programs.”
Giving up hope on Israeli justice, the family turned to the US government. Malki Hy"d was not the first American terror victim. Another young American woman, her parents' only child and pregnant with her first baby, was also murdered in Sbarro. The woman in a coma since the Sbarro massacre is also an American citizen. The Roth famiy turned to the American Department of Justice in the name of the three US terror victims, requesting that Tamimi be charged under US Federal law and brought to the US to stand trial for her crimes. American law expressly permits this.
Roth says that since they initiated this in 2012, various Justice Department lawyers, investigators and FBI agents have met with them several times.
There are people who really care there, she says. One official had tears in his eyes every time he met with them.
Meanwhile the Roths have won several battles against Tamimi, small but significant ones. Twitter shut down her account twice so she was prevented from tweeting her evil thoughts to the world.
Last Purim's joy at having the request for extradition in Jordan's hands lasted just two days, after which it became clear that Jordan does not intend to extradite Tamimi for various evidently-bogus reasons despite an extradition treaty dating from 1995 which was used several times in order to extradite terrorists to the US. The Roths feel that Tamimi is being used as a propaganda tool vis a vis the Palestinian Arab majority in Jordan, who consider her a heroine.
Political interests that have no connection with justice at all, such as the gas deal, are what the Israeli government worries about. They need King Abdullah as a regional power and will not pressure him to make the decision to extradite, one which only he can make. No pressure and she is still free.
The ball is now in the hands of the US State Department, says Roth. "The State Department has a great deal of power, more than the president does in certain areas. There are things they could do, things they should not have done and we are still awaiting answers about certain actions that we can still not talk about. However, it is clear they are not trying to extradite at this point.”
"Until Tamimi is extradited," Frimet declares, "we will not stop what we are doing. It is of utmost importance to us. The present situation only exacerbates our endless pain."
The pain, it must be said, along with the feeling of helplessness in the face of the Israeli government's behavior, the long wait for justice from the US – all have taken their toll. Frimet suffered a heart attack a few months ago at a relatively young age.
Question: If the extradition does take place, will Tamimi spend the rest of her life in an American prison? What will that accomplish?
Frimet: "That will not erase the pain of losing our daughter, of missing her constantly. But it will take away the outer layer of that pain caused by the injustice done to us. Malki is so lacking in our home, our pure and sweet natured talented daughter would be 32 today. I see her with a husband and children, spending her free time doing good deeds. She used to help people and come home with her face shining with joy, and she was really close to Haya Elisheva, her sister, and with the girls in the mainstreaming class at school. In fact, the very summer in which she was murdered, she worked as a counselor in a summer camp called Etgarim, Challenges, for disabled youngsters."
"She has left such an empty hole in our hearts."