. It tells of the horror experienced by relatives of the 16 people who were killed by Palestinian terrorists in a Jerusalem pizzeria ten years ago at the fact that the killers are now going to be released.
October 14, 2011
In Israel, Swap Touches Old Wounds
By ETHAN BRONNER
JERUSALEM—Arnold Roth had just returned from synagogue on Friday morning when the phone rang. It was Israel’s Justice Ministry, telling him that two of the people who murdered his 15-year-old daughter Malka at a Jerusalem pizzeria a decade ago would be freed next week as part of an exchange of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners for an Israeli soldier held by Hamas.
It was not an unexpected call but it was, for Mr. Roth, a horrifying one.
“This deal is a disaster,” he said of the exchange for the Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit, as he sat with his wife, Frimet, on the balcony of their Jerusalem apartment. “Some of these people will go back to murdering. They pose an existential threat to all of us.”
Blocks away, Esther and Yehuda Wachsman were absorbing similar news—that a man who took part in murdering their son, Nachshon, in 1994 was to be freed for Sergeant Shalit. By cruel coincidence, it was the anniversary of the killing—Oct. 14. But Mrs. Wachsman had a different response.
“I’m willing to pay the price for another woman’s son to come home and end the agony,” Mrs. Wachsman said, sitting near a corner of her living room devoted to Nachshon’s memory. “Our hurt will never go away, but I just hope and pray with all my heart that Gilad comes home healthy in body and soul.”
The contrasting responses from two couples who have known and comforted one another were part of the highly charged emotional and political atmosphere in Israel since the announcement on Tuesday about the exchange aimed at ending more than five years of captivity for Sergeant Shalit, 25. Early on Friday, a man who lost both his parents and three siblings in the pizzeria attack that killed Malka Roth defaced the Tel Aviv memorial to Yitzhak Rabin, the slain prime minister. The man, Shvuel Schijvesschuuder, 27, said he was protesting the freeing of his family’s killers.
“People don’t understand the horror of what has been going through my mind,” he said in an interview at his home near Tel Aviv after being detained and freed by the police. His brother, Meir, 32, said all five remaining members of the family would leave the country forever after the deal was completed.
“We feel betrayed and we are going back to Holland,” he said.
As the details of the exchange become public, the near universal joy that greeted the original announcement is being tempered with concern. Israel Radio reported that Sergeant Shalit would be handed over to the Red Cross in Gaza on Tuesday, taken from there to Egypt and then flown to a military base in central Israel, where he will be reunited with his family. They will then be flown to their home in the country’s north.
The full list of Palestinians to be released will be posted on an Israeli government Web site by Sunday, although the Justice Ministry’s calls and lists published by Hamas provided some idea of who is on it. About 477 prisoners will be released in the first round, with 550 to follow two months later. Several hundred of those to be released are serving life sentences, and most of them will go either to the Gaza Strip or go into exile to other countries.
Among those is Ahlam Tamimi, a 31-year-old woman who was a key figure in the pizzeria attack. She is often described as the driver of the car that brought the suicide bomber to the Sbarro restaurant and killed 15 people. But the Roths say her role went far beyond that, to the actual planning of the attack.
In interviews from prison, Ms. Tamimi, who was a journalist, has told of having brought the suicide bomber to Jerusalem and then going on Palestinian television’s afternoon broadcast to announce the news of the attack without acknowledging her involvement.
“I’m not sorry for what I did,” she told an Israeli news organization in 2006. “I will get out of prison, and I refuse to recognize Israel’s existence. Discussions will only take place after Israel recognizes that this is Islamic land.”
The Roths said their anger over the prisoner exchange was focused on Ms. Tamimi, who is being sent to Jordan. She is young, fervent and charismatic, Mr. Roth said, and proud of what she did. In a documentary on Palestinian prisoners, she was asked whether she knew how many children had been killed in the attack. She did not. When told the number was eight, she smiled.
The Roths recalled that their daughter, known as Malki, was a dedicated volunteer for disabled children. In her memory they started and still run a foundation that helps families keep their disabled children at home by providing equipment and therapy. About 30 percent of the foundation’s beneficiaries are Israeli Arabs, Mr. Roth said.
“This is not a political issue for us,” he said. “I am not some raving right-winger. We too share the joy of the Shalit family. But the victims are being marginalized. We object on principle. We see ourselves as agents of the children who will be killed by the graduates of this release.”
For the Wachsmans, the return of Sergeant Shalit is especially poignant. Like Sergeant Shalit, their son was a 19-year-old corporal in uniform when he was seized by Hamas militants. But in their case, the Israeli military tried to rescue him six days later and failed, leading to his death.
“It happened 10 minutes from this apartment,” Mrs. Wachsman said. “I heard the helicopters.”
One man being freed next week was the driver in the abduction plot, she said. His parents have been interviewed on television saying that it is about time that he was freed. Mrs. Wachsman did not share that sentiment.
“I wish him nothing but ill for the rest of his life,” she said, her gaze steady.