Four years ago, Hamas taught the world some valuable lessons. On Aug. 9, 2001, the terror organization dispatched a suicide bomber to the center of Jerusalem where my family and I live. Fifteen innocents were killed, and 150 wounded at the Sbarro restaurant. My precious 15-year-old daughter, Malki, was one of the dead.
The Sbarro massacre shattered the following myths about terrorism and how to thwart it.
First, conventional wisdom holds that terrorists are deprived individuals, desperate and with nothing to lose. But my daughter's murderer was a privileged university student, the son of a prosperous, land-owning restaurateur, and a newly religious Muslim who lacked for nothing.
Second, members of terror organizations are depicted frequently as fringe elements unsupported by the establishment. But the father of my daughter's murderer, speaking in a May interview on NBC, freely admitted he has been receiving compensation payments since the massacre. He said he was instructed to go to his local Arab Bank branch, where he found an account with a substantial cash gift. Similar monthly sums have been deposited there over the past four years. NBC noted that the bank branch is festooned with posters glorifying suicide bombers.
Arab Bank steadfastly denies what it calls "awareness of the existence of an organized program to fund terrorism," insisting it considers suicide bombings "an abomination." But these empty pronouncements do not convince everyone: Arab Bank, dominant in Jordan, operates extensively in the United States and is finally under criminal investigation by the FBI.
Third, Israel's policy of security roadblocks draws bitter rebuke from critics who term the checks pointless violations of Palestinian human rights. They were especially vocal in 2004 when soldiers at an Israeli checkpoint ordered a Palestinian to play his violin before allowing him to pass through. My daughter's murderer carried a guitar case full of explosives over his shoulder, yet managed to cross Israeli lines into Jerusalem and on to Sbarro. Had his instrument been subjected to a thorough check, my Malki would be alive today.
Fourth, Israel's responses to terror attacks are frequently criticized by the media as excessive and unwarranted. Time magazine's report of the bloody attack at Sbarro, for instance, opened with a graphic account of Israel's raid on the PLO's offices in East Jerusalem, calling it a "retaliation." I fail to see how shutting down an illegal and hostile office amounts to a "retaliation" for the massacre of children.
Fifth, the channeling of government money to institutions that support terrorism is illegal under U.S. law, but enforcement has been strikingly lax. Case in point: in September 2001, a replica of the bombed Sbarro premises was constructed on the grounds of Al-Najah University in Nablus. Streams of Palestinians, including children, visited the display paying homage to the perpetrators of the atrocity. Meticulously accurate down to the "kosher" sign in English and Hebrew on its wall, it included, according to The Associated Press, fake "body parts and pizza slices strewn around the room."
The U.S. Agency for International Development has been funding Palestinian universities, including Al-Najah, to the tune of $41 million. Five of these, Al-Najah included, have on-campus Hamas and Islamic Jihad chapters, though they are deemed terror organizations. A USAID spokeswoman stated that "procedures are in place to make sure that [those] in-kind donations ? are not diverted to terrorism." Fortunately, Capital Hill didn't buy that line and recently summoned USAID to respond to the findings.
Six, I used to think that in a democracy, we citizens are empowered to make decisions about our own safety. Aug. 9, 2001 taught me otherwise. That morning, Israeli secret intelligence informed the government that a terrorist was loose on Jerusalem's streets. Police and soldiers combed the capital while government officials pleaded with Arafat for his assistance - all in vain. Jerusalem residents went about their usual business unaware they were sitting ducks. The Israeli government's failure to share this intelligence with us is a gross violation of our right to be informed when our lives and our children's are endangered.
Burying the painful memories of terrorism makes it harder to summon the strength to fight it.
The Sbarro attack was a turning point. Heightened security alerts are now regularly publicized. Ignorance is rarely bliss; often it brings grief.
Seven, many Israelis think the best way to cope with terror and its aftermath is to put it behind us and move on. This approach underlies a decision taken in Israel about a documentary film called "Impact of Terror," which focuses on a single terror attack in the current intifada - the one at Sbarro. CNN has aired it six times. The film was also offered to all of Israel's television networks at a low price, but all of them rejected it. Most Israelis, consequently, have not seen it and probably never will.
Burying the painful memories of terrorism makes it harder to summon the strength to fight it. That lesson has not yet been learned here.
Eight, some assert that terror can be tackled only with all-out war. The day after the Sbarro attack, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets throughout Israel began stationing private armed guards at their entrances. Within a week, unsecured entrances like Sbarro were a thing of the past. Inspections of every customer are now routine. Suicide bombers keep trying to gain entrance but, by and large, have been forced to settle for outdoor attacks and casualty figures have dropped commensurately.
So much for the "big guns" approach to fighting terrorism. Four years and numerous terror attacks later on their own soil, Europe and the United States have yet to implement this effective "small gun."
Nine, choosing the right way to honor the memory of the victims is a serious challenge with no simple answers. But insensitivity is still a problem.
After rebuilding its incinerated Jerusalem store, the Sbarro chain held a gala reopening that coincided with the shloshim, the 30th day after the massacre. No mention was made of why the branch was rebuilt or of the 15 people who perished there. And it took two years for the building owner, under pressure from the victims' families, to allow a plaque engraved with the names of the dead to be mounted at Sbarro.
I want to believe these two incidents are isolated, that Israeli society has come some way since then. Hopefully there is now acknowledgement of the need to remember the terror attacks, their lessons and their victims.
This article originally appeared in The Jewish Week.