Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Malki Roth. This story should be about her, instead of the woman who planned and helped to execute her murder, Ahlam Tamimi. But Malki is dead and Ahlam Tamimi is not only alive and free, but celebrated in Jordan as a national hero. Malki’s parents, Arnold and Frimet, have worked hard to convince US officials to extradite Tamimi from Jordan to stand trial in the States, to no avail. But they’re not giving up, no matter how long it takes.

The latest setback in the Roths’ quest for justice occurred on March 11, 2021, when Interpol announced without warning that it had removed Tamimi’s name from its Red Notice database. Red Notice is an alert system that sends requests to law enforcement in member states to locate and arrest criminals like Tamimi, pending extradition. Arnold and Frimet Roth responded by pledging that very same day that they will not stop their efforts “to see this loathsome person—the embodiment of murderous bigotry—eventually brought to justice to answer for her crimes.”

Frimet Roth has recorded a personal plea to President Biden to help them in their quest for justice. We can only hope this mother’s pain and grief will touch the new president’s heart, and move him to action on Malki’s behalf.

I spoke with Arnold Roth to get a clearer picture on recent developments in this story. This will, in fact, be the third time that Roth has been gracious enough to consent to be interviewed in this space. (See here and here.) It is my hope that readers will become invested in the story of Malki and question why it is that four consecutive US administrations have done nothing to change an unjust reality in which an American citizen—a young girl just out eating pizza with a friend—is murdered for the crime of being Jewish, while her unrepentant murderer is celebrated as a hero in Jordan.

Varda Epstein: Why have successive American governments not pressed for the extradition of the woman who masterminded and assisted in the murder of your child? Wasn't Malki an American citizen? Weren't there other American citizens killed or injured in the Sbarro massacre?

​Arnold Roth: Malki, just 15 when her life was stolen, was one of two US nationals murdered in the Sbarro massacre. The other was a young Jewish tourist from New Jersey, the only child of parents who somehow found the strength to reach out to us during their shiva and ours to try to comfort us and especially my bereft wife. They are heroic figures in our eyes. Their murdered daughter was pregnant with her own first child. I deliberately don't mention them by name but can testify to how exceptionally heartbreaking is their loss.

Another young mother, also a US national but like Malki a resident of Israel, was in the pizzeria with her toddler daughter at the time of the attack and suffered horrific brain injuries. She doesn't get counted among the dead according to the rules of this awful narrative. But she has remained in a vegetative coma throughout the nearly two decades since Ahlam Tamimi delivered her satanic bomb to the center of Jerusalem.

I can speculate about why successive US governments have failed to press for the extradition of Tamimi, who orchestrated the attack and self-describes as the first female Hamas terrorist. But since no US official has ever explained this reality in public, it remains speculation and anyone can speculate. That includes me. So I say that it's all about a woefully misconceived sense that in pressing Jordan to live up to its bilateral obligations to its treaty partner and far-and-away largest benefactor, funder, supporter, and ally, the US will cause headaches for its king. Behind that statement is the reality that Jordan, more than any other country on earth, is overwhelmingly made up of Palestinian Arabs.

Varda Epstein: What do you think of the argument that America is invested in keeping Abdullah on the throne and that extraditing Tamimi would make him unpopular?  Do you think this is the reason behind the unresponsiveness of the State Department under the past four administrations?

​Arnold Roth: It's a reasonable argument in my opinion and a revealing one. The Jordanian leadership has done well in depicting itself as fragile, in danger of collapsing at any moment because of internal stresses and explosive resentments among its people. Jordan is a country in constant need of nurture and understanding which the US has provided for decades.

The world saw something similar, as my wife Frimet likes to point out, in 1960s South Vietnam. I think the expression "the tail wagging the dog" is a good title for this strategy. No one can deny it works. The real question is—why do so many governments and smart political figures fall in with this policy? To that question, I don't have any satisfying answers.

Varda Epstein: What do you think of the FBI putting Tamimi on the wanted list and offering a reward for information leading to her capture? Don't they know where she is? 

​Arnold Roth: To understand my answer, let me take you back four years.

When the US Department of Justice told us on March 14, 2017—a few hours before it happened—that they were unsealing terror charges against Tamimi in Washington later that same day, we actually didn’t appreciate the implications.

No one has said this to us. But it is clear that the delay in announcing federal terrorism charges against Tamimi four years after the judge had signed the papers was because Jordan refused to extradite the fugitive.

Throughout those years, she, Tamimi, was living a dream life, lecturing and advocating for terrorists and terror widely throughout the Arab world and having her own terror-centric TV show. She became a celebrity while Federal prosecutors and investigators from Washington, intent on seeing her stand trial, were being ignored and obstructed by Jordan’s most powerful officials.

On the day the criminal prosecution was announced, Tamimi was added to the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list. Only one other woman had preceded her there. But unlike the rest of the terrorists on the list, there was no multi-million dollar reward from US law enforcement for Tamimi’s capture.

When we discovered she was living at an address that everyone who needed to know knew—not hiding, not living under an assumed name, not concealing her daily movements—we were puzzled. Then it became clear there was no reward and that seemed to say there was no real desire to take her into custody and bring her in chains to a Washington court. A $5m reward was eventually announced nine months later. It seems to still be in effect, but it’s hard to understand why, given how she moves freely throughout Jordanian society without fear.

It would be comforting to be able to say that all of this was explained to us and that we now know why things happened that way. But I cannot. The people who administer the State Department Rewards for Justice program which provides the rewards for the capture of the people on the FBI list, have never returned any of our calls or emails right up until today.

Varda Epstein: Why do you think Interpol took Tamimi off their Red Notice database?

Arnold Roth: I know that the Tamimi family and their lawyers say they fought for 18 months to have Ahlam Tamimi’s name removed from the Interpol Red Notice database. In the Arabic-language media, there are reports that this amounts to a vindication of her. None of their claims make any sense to me.

Varda Epstein: Why do you think the Biden Administration will take action when the last 4 presidents did nothing? Why didn't the Trump Administration take action?

Arnold Roth: When the Biden Administration’s people say theirs will be a principled approach to dealing with allies and rivals, eschewing the transactional approach of the Trump people, I believe them. If true, this is very encouraging. And when the Trump people said they would do everything to ensure justice is done in our case, I believed them too. As a matter of fact, when the Obama people said they would pursue the bomber with the full force of US law, I believed that and still believe it.

Why do politicians and officials say things and then do other, often very different, things? I wish I knew. Meeting and getting to know honorable officials in public life only deepens the puzzle. So much goodwill, and—in our case—so little to show for it.

We continue to hope for better. And to do whatever we possibly can to see it happen.

Varda Epstein: Why should Ahlam Tamimi be behind bars? How will this help you and your family personally? What can we do to help?

Arnold Roth: As a citizen of Jordan and celebrity media figure, Ahlam Tamimi has significantly increased the stock of lethal evil in the world. She is a lightning rod for bigotry-driven, explosive hatred, an articulate representative of some of humanity’s most hateful tendencies.

At the personal level, with her not only free but celebrated on a massive scale by admirers and supporters, I sometimes find it literally impossible to contemplate her rich life alongside the fact that Malki is dead. Malki, who was full of love for people and for life and for being helpful and empathetic, whose murder brought so much darkness into our lives, should be living a life of influence and accomplishment. The injustice is crushing.

Our failure to see Tamimi brought to trial in Washington weighs heavily on me. My wife and I have no intention of giving up but we know that if we succeed, it will only be brought by effecting real change. Support in the form of helping us to change things, by helping us influence lawmakers in Washington, by escalating the doing of justice so that it is not crushed into meaninglessness by expedient politicians—these are things that require outreach and input from Americans.

It is the United States and those who govern it who will determine the outcome of our efforts since 2012. I am always glad to hear from individuals and organizations who are able to take a role in that process with us. We are determined to see justice done. But it cannot be done by us alone.

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