July 27, 2000
A Petition for Justice
A Valley teenager takes on the State Department.
Kineret Fischer is on a quest. At a time in her life when most young women are thinking about boyfriends or worrying about starting college, the recent graduate of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles high school (YULA) has been concentrating on fulfilling a mission: to bring to justice terrorists responsible for the deaths of two Los Angeles teenagers.
Fischer, 18, came up with the idea for a petition drive after discovering on the U.S. Department of State's counter-terrorism Web site (www.heroes.net) that while the department offers rewards for information regarding certain terrorist attacks on American citizens in foreign countries, there is at present no specific campaign for American victims of Arab terrorism in Israel.
The petition drive focuses on two local teenagers killed while visiting Israel: Yael Botwin of Claremont, who was only 14 when she was killed in a bombing on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem in September 1997, and Yitzhak Weinstock, a 19-year-old from West Los Angeles who was murdered by Hamas terrorists near El Bireh in December 1993. Fischer hopes that by gathering enough signatures and raising money for a reward, the State Department will take the deaths of the Jewish teenagers seriously enough to launch a high-profile campaign similar to the ones currently being advertised on the Web site.
"The focus of the petition campaign is to get people, specifically teens both Jewish and non-Jewish, to unite in this fight for justice," Fischer explains. "Even if we never get to the point of capturing these young people's killers, this will at least make their legacy live on."
The petition drive has spurred similar movements around the country, Fischer said, including one at Bruria High School in New Jersey.
"The most important thing is to raise public awareness," she added. "We don't want [teenagers] just to sign but to understand the politics involved. Teens want to know how to help; they are very idealistic, but they don't know how to take action."
Editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper and captain of the YULA varsity basketball team, Fischer could be the poster child for youthful idealism. The pretty brunette was accepted at Barnard College in New York but is taking a one-year deferral to go to Israel and participate in the state's National Service program, where she will work as a volunteer at Bikur Cholim hospital in Jerusalem and hopes to volunteer at a local orphanage.
She said a by-product of her petition drive was the chance to talk to other Jewish teens about the importance of visiting the Holy Land, despite the danger.
"Terrorism abroad does affect teens in L.A., especially those who want to visit Israel," she said. "They may not be afraid, but their parents are afraid to let them go."
Fischer began working on the campaign in mid-March, and at press time she had gathered 520 signatures and raised $4,000 in pledges. The money will be offered as part of the reward for information leading to the capture of Botwin's and Weinstock's killers. Currently, Fischer is in the process of sending out copies of the petition to various state and federal legislators, including Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Brad Sherman, in the hope of enlisting their help to get the victims' cases added to the State Department program.
Michael Darmiento of the State Department's Counter-Terrorism Rewards Program said the petition drive may help draw attention to the issue of Americans killed in Israel by terrorists but was quick to point out that "even though we are not currently offering a reward in these specific cases, a reward could still be paid if someone came forward with information leading to the arrest and conviction (of the killers)."Darmiento said the program, which gives rewards of up to $5 million, concentrates on acts of international terror directed against U.S. citizens or their property.
"In this case (the bombing and the attack in El Bireh), the American citizens were victims of circumstance. There were just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Darmiento said, adding that that did not necessarily preclude a reward campaign being launched. "The decision is being made at the political level. People have gone to Capitol Hill before on this issue, so it is under consideration."
Fischer said she hopes to move that consideration to a definite decision but knows it is unlikely to happen before she leaves on her Israel trip. Still, she feels strongly that her efforts will bear fruit.
"A lot of kids, but mostly adults, came up to me when I was doing the petition drive and said, 'What makes you think you're going to make a difference? You think this matters?' " she said. "But look at what has happened throughout history. It is always one person who makes the difference.
"It's not a Jewish issue, it's a justice issue. Everyone deserves justice."