Several victims of Palestinian terrorism testified before congress Tuesday, hoping to shed light on the plight of U.S. citizens who have been killed or injured in Palestinian terrorist attacks.
The panel featured three victims and a representative from the Department of Justice office responsible for seeking justice for U.S. citizens killed and injured abroad by Palestinian terrorist attacks. The four witnesses testified before the Subcommittee on National Security, which operates under the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
From the hearing’s outset, the feelings of frustration from the committee and victims was evident.
The three victims shared their experiences and stories of tragic loss, hoping that they can one day see justice served on those who harmed them and their loved ones.
“I sit before you today as a survivor of a violent terror attack because of a series of split second decisions that left 16 people dead and many others injured, including myself,” said Sarri Singer in her opening statement.
Singer shared her amazing and tragic story, explaining how she boarded the number 14 bus in Jerusalem in 2003, barely escaping with her life when a Palestinian suicide bomber detonated his payload. She sat in a window seat beside a woman who unintentionally shielded her from the blast, dying instantly. Had Singer sat in her preferred aisle seat, she noted, she would be dead.
Though she survived, Singer explained how she has inoperable shrapnel in her mouth to this day serving as a constant reminder of what happened to her. She has since gone on to found an organization to aid victims of terrorism like her, called Strength to Strength.
Peter Schwartz spoke of his nephew, Ezra, who was killed by a Palestinian terrorist who shot him in the head while he was stuck in traffic in Israel. The young man had taken a gap year before college so he could engage in charity work.
Roth spoke of his daughter Malki, who at age 15 was murdered by a Hamas terrorist bomber in an attack on a pizzeria in Jerusalem in 2001. He emphasized the fact that those who incite and fund terrorism must be dealt with in a legislative manner so as to prevent such attacks in the future.
The fact that those same loved ones happen to have been U.S. citizens makes the issue one of national concern, but it also complicates their search for justice due to the complexity and bureaucracy involved with attacks against U.S. citizens abroad.
“Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 over 64 Americans including 2 unborn children have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists,” Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, who chairs the committee, said in his opening statement. “[the Department of Justice] has not been able to cite one example for this committee of even a single terrorist that has been prosecuted in the U.S. for any of the 64 attacks against Americans in Israel. Indeed, many of these terrorist[s] roam free as a result of prisoner exchanges or evasions.”
Wiegmann, a deputy assistant attorney general from the Department of Justice’s national security division, represented the Justice Department’s Office of Justice for Victims of Overseas Terrorism (OVT), an office created to aid victims like Singer, Schwartz and Roth. OVT was established as part of the Koby Mandell act, named for an American boy who was kidnapped and brutally murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
According to OVT’s website, it was established with three main goals. First, to “ensure that where Americans are injured or killed in terrorist attacks overseas, investigation and prosecution remain a high priority within the Department of Justice.”
Second, “to monitor the investigation and prosecution of terrorist attacks against Americans abroad in both foreign and the United States criminal justice systems.”
Third, “to work to ensure that the rights of victims and their families are honored and respected throughout the criminal justice system.”
The concern of the victims who testified, and that of the subcommittee, is that in dozens of cases of U.S. citizens killed by Palestinian terrorism, OVT has yet to see successful prosecution within the Justice Department.
Wiegmann emphasized the coordination efforts his office has made with victims of terrorism abroad and their families, and noted the jurisdictional issues associated with trying to arrest and prosecute terrorists abroad.
Rep. Mark Meadows countered Wiegmann, saying the results are not encouraging. “In fact when you were talking about how your office helps the victims, I watched people, and many other people at your table were rolling their eyes and not agreeing with your premise on helping and keeping them informed,” he said.
Meadows and his colleagues expressed a desire to see justice done for the victims, and implored Wiegmann to let his office know that if there is anything that can be done on the congressional end, be it increased funding or legal measures, OVT must let them know.
Though it is clear that several hurdles remain before the issue can be properly resolved, some positive aspects were drawn from the hearing by those in attendance.
“It is our firm belief that America is set apart from other nations in the world because it is a nation that prides itself on the blindness of the scales of justice, and on morality, compassion and the rule of law,” said Sarah Stern, president and founder of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, a Washington think-tank that works closely on the issue of U.S. victims of Palestinian terrorism, to the The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“One justice becomes subordinate to any other factor, be it diplomatic or a political or anything else, we begin to lose our moral compass as a nation,” she continued, “this hearing was one step in the right direction towards finding our moral compass, once again.”
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