By Sarah N. Stern
Something remarkable happened this week, which might possibly lead to the righting of a long-standing, horrific wrong. It involves a rather long saga, and there is an unsung hero to this tale who is emerging from the one of the most unlikely places imaginable.
The tale begins on August 9, 2001, a sweltering hot Jerusalem day, when 15-year-old Malki Roth and her friend Michal Raziel set out for lunch at the Sbarro Pizza restaurant on Jaffa Street. The girls had time on their hands during the long, August summer vacation.
Unfortunately, that was the day that Ahlam Tamimi picked up Izz-al Dinn Shuheil al –Masrei in Ramallah and delivered him to the Sbarro Restaurant. He had packed a guitar case filled with explosives. Ms. Tamimi has boasted about how she specifically selected the location and the time of day to target the most Jews. The ensuing blast pummeled nuts, bolts and explosives into the bodies of those unfortunate individuals who had chosen to eat lunch there, that day.
The “Sbarro Massacre” as it is known, resulted in the deaths of 15 people, including 8 children, and the wounding of 130. One young woman, Chana Nachenberg, a mother of one, remains in a vegetative state until today. Two Americans, Malki Roth, and Judith Greenbaum, 31, who was pregnant at the time, were killed in the blast.
In 2003, Ahlam Tamimi was convicted in an Israeli Court, and sentenced to 16 consecutive life sentences. In October of 2011, she was released along with 1,026 other terrorists “with blood on their hands” in exchange for the IDF soldier held hostage by Hamas, Gilad Shalit.
Ms. Tamimi has made a career of freely and publicly boasting about her crimes. While still in Israeli prison, she was asked if she knew how many Israeli children she had killed, and her response was ”3.” When told that there were actually eight, her face alighted in a smile as she gleefully repeated, “8! I killed 8 Jewish children!”
When released from prison, Ms. Tamimi went to Jordan, where she was immediately treated like a conquering hero, showered with flowers and given her own Hamas television show, “Breezes of the Free. ” It is produced in Amman and beamed on websites throughout the world, inspiring other would-be terrorists on how to, literally, get away with murder.
As recently as October 23, 2018, Ms. Tamimi was prominently featured on a very popular, secular Jordanian television show, “Caravan” for 45 minutes, where she and her terrorist husband, Nazir, were lionized for their wanton acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians.
EMET has labored for years together with Malki Roth’s courageous father, Arnold Roth, for the pursuit of justice for the wrongful death of his daughter, Malki. It must be said that despite the enormous pain he has endured, he is one of the finest, most decent human beings one could possibly have the good fortune to know.
We know that according to the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991, 18 USC Sec. 2332(b), whenever an American is killed or harmed overseas in an act of international terrorism, the U.S. has the right and the responsibility to prosecute and punish, in United States courts, the individual(s) who murdered or maimed the American citizen. There is no statute of limitations.
We have worked with members of Congress who have written countless letters about this to the Department of Justice and Department of State, and have successfully called for a hearing about this. One was held in the Judiciary Committee, led by Senator Ted Cruz in November 2015, and one in the House Oversight Committee led by Congressman Ron DeSantis in February of 2016.
Perhaps as a result of these efforts, approximately two years ago, on March 14, 2017, the Department of Justice unveiled the charges against Ms. Tamimi and made an extradition request to Jordan. Unfortunately, despite the fact that an extradition treaty has been in place between the United States and Jordan since 1995, and 3 Jordanian nationals have been extradited under that treaty, suddenly, a mere, few days after the extradition request for Ms. Tamimi was delivered, the Jordanian Court of Cessation declared the Extradition Treaty null and void.
The United States does not share this view, and has the treaty listed in a State Department Booklet of “Treaties in Force.” After several repeated requests by Arnold Roth, a reward of $5 million has been posted for her capture, which is commensurate to that of other terrorists listed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
This is where things get a little sticky. Although the reward is posted, our sources in Jordan have told us that it is hardly visible anywhere in Jordan, aside from inside the American Embassy in Amman, and there it is in English.
Why? Because our State Department is extremely aware that Jordan is skating on very thin ice, both economically and politically. The population is approximately 70 percent Palestinian, and is extremely restive.
The Jordanians had signed Peace Treaty with Israel in 1994, but did nothing to sow the hearts and minds of their street towards peace. Jordanian textbooks are as anti-Semitic as any found from Hamas or within the Islamic Republic of Iran. The recent disturbances over the “Gates of Mercy” compound , (or Bab al Rahma in Arabic, or Shar Ha Rahamim In Hebrew), on the Temple Mount, have been attributed by Fatah sources to an effort by King Abdullah II to ensure that President Trump’s “Deal of the Century” will not affect the status quo on the Temple Mount. That is because since 1994, Jordan has been given the guardianship of the Holy sites in Jerusalem.
America gives Jordan approximately $1 billion in aid a year. Yet we treat them as though we are the supplicants.
Last week, King Abdullah II was in Washington, and was treated with kid gloves, welcomed in all corridors throughout the capital, and was ceremoniously hailed as a great diplomat and peace negotiator.
Yet, hardly anyone seemed to care to raise the issue of the refusal of Jordan to extradite the murderer of two Americans, and the lack of visible postings for Ms. Tamimi’s $5million reward.
Enter Mark, (nee Mohammad), Halawa, a young man born in Kuwait to a Palestinian father and a mother who was a convert to Islam. When he was a little boy, his father would hoist Mark on his shoulders, and march him in Fatah parades, where the boy would excitedly brandish a gun. His father did quite well in Kuwait in the construction business, and when Mark was 26 he attended a university in Ontario, Canada.
It was in the university library that that Mark encountered his first Jew, Dr. Yitchok Block, a kippah-wearing philosophy professor. He asked him if he was really a Jew, and Dr. Block responded with, “Do you think I dress this way for fun?” Mark has only known deeply serious Muslims who were religious and was surprised that a religious Jew could have a sense of humor. They immediately began to engage in some interesting conversations. Mark revealed to this professor that his father was Muslim and his maternal grandmother had converted to Islam from Judaism.
The professor gradually and gently revealed to Mark that that meant, under Jewish law, his grandmother, his mother, he and all his cousins on his mother’s side were Jews. “But she converted to Islam”, Mark said, “It doesn’t matter if she would have converted 9 times. Under Jewish law, she will always be a Jew. And I have something startling to tell you. And that is that you, Mark, according to Jewish law will always be a Jew, as well.”
For some strange reason, Mark decided to visit a synagogue, and there he felt an uncanny connection and a sense of belonging. He decided to visit Israel and studied in a religious seminary there, and Mark has embraced his Judaism. He now is an Orthodox Jew who wears a kippah, is married, and the father of two daughters.
Mark has now devoted his life to trying to expel the hatred towards Israel and the Jewish people within the Arab world. He has an amazing initiative called the Halawa Initiative, which uses Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to reach millions of Muslims and Arabs throughout the world.
Mark is also friends with Arnold Roth, and he knows that this sort of injustice can do nothing but burn a hole through the heart of this long aggrieved father.
And Mark also knows that there are plenty of impoverished people in Jordan who would appreciate a $5 million reward.
Mark could not just stand idly by and he felt compelled to act. On Friday, Mark sent me a message, “The Video is Out!” He posted this video on his Facebook page, telling the story of Ahlam Tamimi, and the $5 million reward.
Mark has of course been receiving all manner of curses and insults in Arabic, but something inside of him will not allow himself to be discouraged.
And perhaps, through the byzantine spiritual journey of Mark Halawa, and this person’s remarkable courage and integrity, there will finally be some tiny remnant of closure and some semblance of justice in this long and horrific saga.
Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, EMET, an unabashedy pro-Israel think tank and policy institute in Washington, DC.