Yom Hazikaron, observed today, is the day on which Israel remembers not only its fallen soldiers, but also civilians who were murdered by Arab terrorists. But there is one category of terror victims who, while technically included in that designation, have been almost completely forgotten—American victims of Palestinian Arab terrorism.
Since 1968, a total of 146 U.S. citizens have been murdered, and more than 200 wounded, in Palestinian Arab terrorist attacks. Most were tourists or college students spending a summer, six months, or a year of study in Israel—like my daughter, Alisa. Others were dual American-Israeli citizens living in Israel.
The parents of these victims reacted like Israeli parents do in the face of loss. They sit shiva for their children, siblings or parents, then go about putting one foot in front of the other trying to rebuild their shattered lives. Some of us try to participate in the on-going building of the State of Israel and move here. I did it; not because of Alisa’s murder but because of her life.
Obviously, in many respects there is no difference between a terror victim who was a citizen of one country and one who came from another country. What all of them have in common is that they were innocent targets of brutal savages.
Yet in several important respects, American victims are different.
To begin with, the United States has contributed more than $1-billion in taxpayers’ funds to the Palestinian Authority over the past 27 years. Therefore, it has a special right to demand that the PA surrender terrorists who have harmed Americans.
Legally, too, there is a very important difference. U.S. law —18 U.S.C. 2331 and 2332— makes it a crime to kill or injure (or to conspire to kill or injure) an American national outside the U.S. in furtherance of a terrorist cause, whether or not the Americans were not the intended targets. Even when they are visiting, studying, or living overseas, U.S. citizens are still U.S. citizens. The U.S. government has a legal responsibility to act when they are harmed by terrorists abroad, just as it has an obligation to act if they are harmed by terrorists within America’s border.
Tragically, however, U.S. officials have consistently applied a double standard when dealing with the American victims of Palestinian terrorism.
On many occasions, the U.S. has pressured various other governments to hand over terrorists who killed Americans abroad. Yet, incredibly, the U.S. government has never asked the PA to surrender any of the Palestinian killers of Americans. This, despite the fact that the names of many of the suspects have been revealed by the media. Some of the killers are even serving in the PA police or security forces—meaning they could be easily located and apprehended.
The U.S. Justice Department maintains a website that offers rewards for information leading to the arrest of killers of Americans abroad. Yet the site, www.rewardsforjustice.net, offers rewards in only two of the nearly 150 attacks in which Americans have been harmed by Palestinians.
The site also obscures the fact that the attacks were perpetrated by Palestinian Arabs; that section of the site euphemistically refers to those attacks as “Violence in Opposition to the Middle East Peace Negotiations.”
That description is a slap in the face to the victims and their families. My daughter Alisa was not murdered because she had something to do with “Middle East Peace Negotiations.” She was murdered because she was a Jew.
Over the years, I have occasionally had the opportunity to speak with U.S. diplomats or other officials about this issue. The excuses they have offered for America’s inaction are astounding—and obviously dishonest.
For example, they have claimed that the U.S. cannot seek the surrender of Palestinian terrorists because there is no extradition treaty between the U.S. and the Palestinian Authority. Dennis Ross, who was the top Mideast envoy in several administrations, was the first to make that claim. Other U.S. diplomats have said likewise.
But the “no treaty” excuse is nonsense. Ross and the others know that the U.S. does not need an extradition treaty in order to get another government to hand over a prisoner. Financial and other pressure by the U.S. will do the trick.
The real reason that no U.S. administration has never asked the PA to hand over killers of Americans has nothing to do with treaties. It’s because every administration knows that the PA will strongly resist handing over terrorists—whom it regards as heroes—and therefore making such a demand means a potential U.S. confrontation with the PA. For administrations that put a priority on having friendly relations with the PA, then, seeking justice is a non-starter. In other words, politics trumps justice.
How long will this outrage continue? How long will the plight of American victims of Palestinian terrorism be buried and ignored? How many more Yom Hazikarons will come and go before any of the Palestinian killers of Americans finally face American justice?
I would like the answers to those questions, but I don’t expect to hear anything from the Biden administration as it seeks to renew ties with the Palestinian Authority and simultaneously violate another law, the Taylor Force Act, which cut aid to the Palestinian Authority because of it’s ongoing “pay to slay” policy.
Although I am living in Jerusalem, I won’t be at any official Israeli memorial programs this year, but this year will be very different for me.
When the siren sounds, I won’t be in front of my computer as in past years; this year I’ll be on my apartment balcony with tears in my eyes.
Stephen M. Flatow is a vice president of the Religious Zionists of America and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror.” He and his wife are olei chadashim living in Jerusalem.