Using a congressional subcommittee hearing as their venue, activists on Tuesday called on the federal government to prosecute those responsible for alleged Palestinian terror attacks on Americans in Israel.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, was among legislators who questioned Brad Wiegmann, deputy assistant attorney general about why the Justice Department has not prosecuted any of the 64 cases since 1993 when Americans died in violence allegedly committed by Palestinians.
“The American people overwhelmingly believe that terrorists who kill Americans abroad must face justice,” DeSantis said. “To this end the office [of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism] was designed for the purpose of ensuring that the investigation and prosecution of terrorist deaths of American citizens overseas are a high priority within the Department of Justice.”
DeSantis said that because Israel is a democratic nation with “biblical significance” it is a “magnet for terrorism.”
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) said that during a recent trip to Israel, he sat in a courtroom where six members of Hamas were on trial.
“Why are the Israelis better at bringing them to court than we are in the United States?” he asked Wiegmann. “Is it a lack of resources? Because if it is, you need to speak up now.”
Wiegmann said that his department makes every attempt to leave no stone unturned with regard to any foreign terrorism. But, he added, many attacks, such as the ones in Paris last year, are left up to the authorities in the country where the violence is committed.
“In general, those terrorism cases around the world are prosecuted where they occur,” he said.
DeSantis asked Wiegmann whether Palestinian terrorists receive a pass by the United States out of fear that prosecuting them might impede the Middle East peace process. Wiegmann said no.
“We want to protect Americans regardless of who they’ve been victimized by,” he said.
Meadows asked Wiegmann to put together a task force in the next 120 days to examine challenges that DOJ faces in its prosecution of foreign terrorists.
The hearing also featured testimony from victims and parents of victims. Arnold Roth’s daughter Malka was killed in 2001 by a suicide bomber at a Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem. Roth said his goal is to “reassert the humanity of the victims” in calling for increased attention from the DOJ.
“Nothing is more disempowering and shattering than being the survivor of terrorism of someone you love,” he said.
He told Washington Jewish Week that he spends every day thinking about how to bring about justice for his daughter and all of the other victims.
“We’re really very much alive, wanting to do good in the community,” he said. “But that thought of wanting to do justice never leaves me or my wife.”