The once and future child murderer

A civilized government can only go so far, even for the return of its soldiers.

ahlam tamimi 88 (photo credit: )
ahlam tamimi 88
(photo credit: )
With the specter of another Ron Arad-type tragedy looming, the return of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit has taken center stage. Yet the impending prisoner release could spell a hero's welcome for my daughter's murderer, one even more chilling than that for Samir Kuntar. Hamas has repeatedly said that one of its iron-clad conditions for Schalit's return is the release of all female and teenage Palestinian prisoners. And after Hizbullah's emboldening success in freeing Kuntar, Hamas is certain to be more extortionist than ever. But the government must plumb the ramifications of this purportedly "humanitarian" demand. WHO ARE those anonymous female terrorists? And for what crimes are they imprisoned? Women have acquired enviable status in the world of terrorism. They enjoy the best of both genders. On the one hand, their organizations deem them strong enough and clever enough to mastermind, coordinate and execute terror attacks. Then, once convicted, they morph into delicate, fragile creatures deserving early release by dint of their femininity. In October 2003, Ahlam Tamimi was sentenced to 16 consecutive life sentences for her role in the terror bombing of Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant. Fifteen men, women and children perished in that explosion on a hot August afternoon in 2001. Tamimi, a communications student and a television news reader for the Palestinian Authority, was the linchpin of that atrocity. She had the prior practical experience of planting a bomb in a trash bin at a Jerusalem supermarket, one that was detected before it detonated. Tamimi was not apprehended at the time. Several months later, she tried again. This time, she carried 10 kg. of explosives concealed in a guitar case. Izzaddin al-Masri, the suicide bomber, sat beside her in a taxi until they neared the Israeli checkpoint. Exiting alone, he approached the Israeli soldiers empty-handed. He sailed through the security check. Meanwhile Tamimi, 23, attractive, dressed in Western-style clothing and chatting in English, aroused no suspicion. She passed unhampered through the Kalandiya checkpoint on Jerusalem's edge. Once inside Israel, Masri got back into the taxi. He rode with Tamimi to the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, and from there they walked together into west Jerusalem. At the intersection of Jaffa Road and King George Avenue in the city's center stood Sbarro, a pizza restaurant. Why Tamimi selected it as the target is not hard to figure: On that vacation afternoon, it was filled with women and children. In separating from her "weapon," Tamimi asked Masri to wait 15 minutes before detonating the bomb. She wanted to be far enough from the explosion to escape unscathed. He complied. DURING THESE past five years, Tamimi has received all the perks that the Prisons Service offers: the right to dress in clothes of her choice, the right to visitors, the right to socialize with fellow prisoners, the right to decorate her cell as she sees fit, the right to study, the right to practice her religion and the right to wed (she recently married a male terrorist murderer, her cousin Nizar Tamimi). Tamimi has also been permitted two interviews. The first, in March 2006, was reported in the press. The second was videotaped and included in an award-winning documentary film, Hothouse. Some of the film's reviews, including one in The New York Times, featured a glamorous, smiling photograph of Tamimi. I have tried to detect signs of suffering during Tamimi's five years of imprisonment - but in vain. Nor has a hint of remorse surfaced. During her Hothouse interview, Tamimi learned that her act cost the lives of eight children, rather than the five she had believed died. She smiled upon hearing the updated tally. In the first interview she had declared: "I'm not sorry for what I did. We'll become free from the occupation, and then I will be free from prison." Israel's past willingness to release convicted terrorists has made them confident of an early release. TAMIMI IS no anomaly in the world of terrorism. At the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association in 2006, Juliette Shedd of George Mason University delivered a study entitled "Understanding Female Terrorists: An Analysis of Motivation and Media Representation." She culled myriad reasons that terrorist organizations avidly recruit women Terrorist organizations play upon the stereotypes of women to achieve their goals; popular opinion considers women as victims of violence... rather than perpetrators... The lore that arises around female terrorists can also provide an advantage... Because women are often not part of the terrorist 'profile,' they are able to get through security check points... and can provide cover for male terrorists by assuming mother or girlfriend roles... Women... often display ruthlessness, dominance, and calm under pressure... In fact, 'shoot the women first' is reportedly an instruction given to counterterrorist recruits in West Germany and other Interpol squads... A mystique also arises around female terrorists... There is a general sense that women are more likely to receive the media attention needed... In addition, women seem to inspire the question 'Why?'... journalists search for explanations for the violent activities of women [providing] a venue for the terrorist group to spread their message. Writing in a 2006 academic study by the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz's special correspondent for Arab affairs, pointed out that "the lives of female suicide terrorists are no less tragic than those of male suicide bombers, yet the media accords women more sympathy and treats them with kid gloves." WE ISRAELIS need to stop using lines like: "No price is too high to free our captive soldiers" or, as Minister-without-Portfolio Ami Ayalon put it last week: "Returning the abducted soldiers is above all else." Such assertions are hackneyed and patently false. Plainly there are demands with which no civilized government would comply. If, for instance, Hamas instructed us to execute one Israeli child to gain Gilad Schalit's freedom, would we? Is releasing a mass child murderer, able and eager to kill more Jewish children, very different from that? On the morning that the returned hostages Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were buried, Defense Minister Ehud Barak intimated that there is a red line when he said: "We will do everything that is possible and appropriate to bring Schalit home." But did he mean it? Before the early release of an "ordinary" murderer, the judicial system ensures that the victims' voices are heard. Yet in the context of terrorist murders, the only concession to families of the victims is the publication - a mere 48 hours prior to the release - of the names of the prisoners being set free. Furthermore, the High Court has never once granted a terror victim's petition to block such a release. Nevertheless, Smadar Haran, the wife and mother of Samir Kuntar's victims, revealed last week that her wishes had been factored into past government calculations. Even as she expressed her approval of Kuntar's release, she told the nation she had lobbied tirelessly to keep him behind bars for 27 years. She was motivated, she said, by a sense of duty to her murdered loved ones. I also feel an obligation to my daughter Malki to do everything I can to keep her murderer behind bars. And the rest of Israel owes the same obligation to Tamimi's future targets - their own children. The writer and her husband founded the Malki Foundation ( in memory of their daughter, murdered in the Sbarro restaurant massacre in Jerusalem in 2001. The foundation provides concrete support for Israeli families of all faiths who care at home for a special-needs child.