Despite a commitment from the United States government to bring overseas terrorists to justice, American victims of Palestinian violence overseas are still searching for answers. None of the 64 cases in the last 23 years has resulted in a conviction, prompting anger from some Jews here and in Israel.
In 2004, Congress passed the Koby Mandell Act, which created the Office for Victims of Overseas Terrorism within the Department of Justice to handle cases of overseas terrorism against Americans. It came in response to the 2001 murder of 13-year-old American citizen Koby Mandell, who was living and attending school near the West Bank.
“We’ve been dealing with the Justice Department and the State Department since Day 1, since the Koby Mandell Act, and we know since we called them to prosecute [on behalf of] our client [Mandell] that they’re not coming through,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney and activist who leads the Shurat Hadin Law Center in Israel. For 15 years, Darshan-Leitner has worked with organizations around the world to make sure countries block funding from designated Palestinian terrorist groups and secure funding for victims and their families.
Last year, Shurat Hadin worked with other attorneys to win a lawsuit brought in a New York federal court against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The suit resulted in more than $200 million for victims of six attacks that occurred between 2002 and 2004 as reported by Washington Jewish Week. American courts may also try terrorists under the Antiterrorism Act of 1996 if the victims were American; however, Darshan-Leitner said the unwillingness of the Justice and State departments to get involved in these cases is “outrageous.”
“It’s disappointing. I don’t know if [the Justice Department] is evenhanded or if they’re inherently incompetent.”
— Robert Slatkin, chair of the Baltimore Zionist District
“They want to play even, which they should, but not when it comes to pure justice,” she said. “Not when it comes to implementing the law or enforcing the law. When it comes to an act of murder, you have an obligation as an American citizen to take steps and prosecute. Otherwise, you’re betraying your own citizens.”
During a hearing in the Subcommittee on National Security on Feb. 2, lawmakers heard testimony from victims of Palestinian violence as well as from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brad Wiegmann.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) challenged Wiegmann to put together a task force to learn why the Justice Department has not prosecuted any Palestinian suspects.
Following the hearing, Sarah Stern, founder and president of the pro-Israel group Endowment for Middle East Truth, commended the committee for their work.
“Ever since Oslo, these victims of terrorism have become the invisible or disposable Americans, whom, for political reasons, our government has decided are not deserving of the same justice as any other American citizen who has been killed,” she wrote in a statement. “The United States needs to seek justice for Americans everywhere and stop letting the Palestinians get away with murder, which will just encourage more terrorism directed against Americans.”
The unwillingness by U.S. courts to litigate cases involving Palestinians also has upset Zionists such as Robert Slatkin, chair of the Baltimore Zionist District. Slatkin believes the U.S. has not been more involved because it is afraid to aggravate Muslims around the world.
“It’s disappointing. I don’t know if [the Justice Department] is evenhanded or if they’re inherently incompetent,” he said.