A tribute unfit for a king who harbors our child’s killer
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A tribute unfit for a king who harbors our child’s killer

OP-ED: Jordan’s monarch won’t extradite the woman behind the horrific Sbarro massacre. Why is he getting the royal treatment at a New York gala?

Our daughter, Malki Roth, with her friends, in a photograph found in a disposable camera, after Malki was killed by the bomb set by Ahlam Tamimi at the Sbarro's pizzeria in Jerusalem, on August 9, 2001. (courtesy)
Our daughter, Malki Roth, with her friends, in a photograph found in a disposable camera, after Malki was killed by the bomb set by Ahlam Tamimi at the Sbarro's pizzeria in Jerusalem, on August 9, 2001. (courtesy)

The bombing of a pizzeria filled with children and the horror of losing our sunny, compassionate 15-year-old daughter, Malki, in the inferno reverberates through our lives. 

With the passing years, the corrosive pain of that loss remains a constant. What keeps changing – growing – is a cast of officials, politicians and public figures who have brought us frustration, deep bitterness, and a crushing sense of injustice. 

In the latest chapter, the individual who personally harbors the bomber and keeps her safe from prosecution is being awarded a prestigious honor in front of an adoring crowd tonight, in New York City. He is King Abdullah II, the absolute ruler of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

How did we get here?

Malki was one of 16 victims in an Islamist assault on a busy pizzeria in the center of Jerusalem. Half of them were children. The bomb – a human being carrying an explosive-laden guitar case on his back – was massive. Several kilograms of nails inside the case maximized the flesh-shredding impact. Survivors were left grotesquely injured.

A Jordanian woman of 21, Ahlam Tamimi, was soon arrested. A journalism student and part-time Arabic TV news reader, she confessed to her central role: scouting potential sites, selecting Sbarro for the large number of children there, delivering the bomb to the target in the heart of Israel’s capital.

To us, the devastated parents of one of Tamimi’s child victims, it is clear that handing her over to American justice would be unpopular in Jordan.

Sentenced to 16 consecutive life terms, she was one of 1,027 Palestinian Arab prisoners – more than half of them convicted of killing people – set free by Israel in a calamitous 2011 deal with Hamas to secure the freedom of an Israeli hostage, Gilad Shalit.

Tamimi returned to Jordan as a hero and celebrity. In short order, she became a bride, a mother, an inspirational speaker in front of live audiences across the Arab world, a TV show presenter. Her message: support for Arab terrorists serving lengthy prison sentences in Israel and incitement towards still more terrorism against Jews and Israelis. 

In March 2017, the US Department of Justice announced that Tamimi was being charged with terrorism crimes under US federal law. Declared a fugitive, her extradition was sought from Jordan, which has had a treaty with the US for this purpose since the days of President Clinton and the late King Hussein. 

The announcement skipped the part about how the US had been quietly working for several years to persuade the Jordanians to honor the treaty, long before unveiling the charges. The Jordanians persisted in their refusal. 

Days later, the Court of Cassation, Jordan’s highest legal tribunal, ruled that the kingdom’s treaty with its most important ally was unconstitutional and unenforceable. It had been so, the judges declared, since the day it was signed. 

Neither the court nor Jordan’s news media mentioned that Jordan had previously extradited fugitives to the US every time the US had requested it. Tamimi was the first refusal.

Jordan, its diplomats and its political leaders, kept their lips firmly sealed, once the unexpected ruling was handed down. No comment, no reaction.

To us, the devastated parents of one of Tamimi’s child victims, it is clear that handing her over to American justice would be unpopular in Jordan. 

That country’s society adores this woman for getting away with murder, literally, and returning home to live the life of a national hero. In an unscripted moment, the host of a 2018 tribute to Tamimi and her husband (who is also a convicted, unrepentant, freed murderer) on Jordan’s most watched TV channel exclaimed passionately: “You, the people of the struggle, elevate the name of Jordan!”

What is not clear to us is why Jordan and its ruler have gotten such an easy ride in certain American circles. 

Jordan’s King Abdullah II, reviews an honor guard before giving a speech to parliament in Amman, Jordan, November 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)

Abdullah is a frequent visitor to the US Congress and the White House. Three delegations of congressional leaders have paid official visits to him in his Amman palace in the past month alone. One of them, headed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, included leaders and prominent members of several key House committees. Tamimi, justice, and Jordan disrespecting its treaty obligations all went unmentioned. 

We have challenged all the politicians involved by reaching out to their offices and staff. Not one has responded.

We have also raised disturbing questions about a US government $5 million reward offered for Tamimi’s capture and conviction. (She is not in hiding; never has been.) No one from the State Department office that administers the reward program has responded to any of our numerous phone calls and emails.

We have made repeated efforts to address our concerns to the relevant United States diplomats in the region. All these have gone unanswered too.

But what happens if we make justice optional? What if complying with long-standing treaties can be set aside as a matter of convenience? What if the news industry looks the other way rather than offend a well-spoken monarch, reputedly at the leading edge of Western efforts to curb terrorism?

Thursday night, the prestigious Washington Institute for Near East Policy is holding a gala event in New York City to honor Jordan’s ruler for his “visionary statesmanship… courageous leadership and profound commitment to peace and moderation.”

We, of course, will not be there. And in a disturbing replay of scenes we know well, the organizers have declined to acknowledge our emails. 

We have no intention of giving up, even as the frustrations and obstructionism mount. But if justice loses its primacy, how different are our society’s values from those of the terrorists?

Malki, with her younger sister, Haya, in 1996. (courtesy)
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