Use Law to Respond to Hebrew University Attack

We’ve seen it before — more than 20 dead and hundreds injured as a result of Palestinian Arab terror attacks in Israel within a week of each other. The death of five Americans at Hebrew University on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus brought the pain home to America once again. President Bush remarked, "We are responding to a murder of Americans. We’re responding all across the globe to murders of Americans….The war on terror is fought on many fronts. And I just — I cannot speak strongly enough about how we must collectively get after those who kill…."

And following a wreath-laying on the Hebrew University campus, Daniel C. Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel, said, "We are very committed in the war against terrorism and, in addition to the support that we give to the State of Israel as a partner in this war against terrorism, we will do all that we can to fight against terrorists wherever they are."

As the parent of an American killed in a 1995 bombing, I knew there would be an Israeli response to the Hebrew University attack, but I wondered about the response that would come from America. Words are one thing, actions are another. Would anything be done differently by this president from what I witnessed seven years ago when my 20-year-old daughter, Alisa, was murdered by a suicide bomber?

When an American is murdered overseas, U.S. law gives the government the authority to investigate the crime, and to extradite to the United States and prosecute those responsible for it. Indeed, we have seen this law at work in the case of the conspiracy to bomb American airliners, the 1993 World Trade Center attack, and the war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

When Palestinian Islamic Jihad killed Alisa in 1995, then-President Clinton immediately announced the dispatch of an FBI team to Israel and Gaza for the purpose of investigating the attack and bringing her killers to justice. When you are mourning your child, you don’t pay attention to such details until they are called to your attention through news reports and a telephone call from the FBI. But when you get the word that the United States is standing up for one of its citizens, you think things are going in the right direction.

Back in 1995, when relations between the Palestinian Authority and the Clinton administration were at their best, one would have expected the Palestinians to show their willingness to work with their American partners at the FBI. That was not to be the case, however, as the Palestinian security service refused to cooperate with the FBI and provide any information on those who killed Alisa. And I do mean "those" because suicide bombers and those who plant bombs and walk away never work alone. In Alisa’s case, the Israelis were able to identify at least 10 men who were responsible for planning and coordinating the attack and a foreign country, the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the financial and moral sponsor of Islamic Jihad.

That lack of cooperation by the Palestinian Authority continues today. And two of Alisa’s killers are still roaming the streets of Gaza despite Israel’s requests for their transfer from the Palestinian Authority to Israel in accordance with provisions of the Oslo accords. Two had a military trial in Israel and are sitting in prison. Regarding the others, let us just say that they will not be able to kill again. As for U.S. action, the United States has never made a request for extradition or transfer.

The U.S. response to the growing number of victims of terrorism in 1995 and 1996 — three more American victims in Palestinian attacks in Israel, the attack in Oklahoma City and the shooting down of four unarmed airplanes being flown by the Brothers to Rescue as they searched the Florida straits for people attempting escape from Cuba — led Congress to pass and President Clinton to sign a far-reaching bill known as the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996. This bold law created penalties for those who conduct terror against Americans. In addition, it gave us ordinary citizens the ability to bring civil actions against foreign countries designated by the U.S. State Department as state sponsors of terrorism. The purpose of the law is to put state sponsors out of the terrorism business by attaching a financial penalty to their actions. Using that law, I successfully sued the Islamic Republic of Iran as the sponsor of the attack that killed Alisa. Other Americans have followed in my footsteps.

But I am sorry to say that all did not work out as planned, as recent attacks by Islamic Jihad and Hamas demonstrate. The law has not had its intended effect because the U.S. government has blocked me and others from seizing Iranian assets in this country in full satisfaction of our claims. The result of this policy is Iran’s continued support of Palestinian Arab terrorists and the deaths of more innocent civilians.

If President Bush wants to reduce the chance of more deaths in the Middle East and bring some hope to Israelis and Palestinians, he should do what his predecessor was afraid to do — give us access to Iran’s commercial assets in the United States for the purpose of reducing Iran’s ability to sponsor terrorism. He must use the courage that I believe he has to disregard the entrenched policy wonks at the State Department, who tread lightly when it comes to Iran’s financial support of terror, and strike a blow on behalf of those Americans murdered in cold blood by its proxies in the field. If he does that, he will take Islamic Jihad, Hamas and others out of the terrorism game and the world will be a safer place.