December 9, 1999
L.A.‘s Forgotten Victim of Arab Terrorism
Last week marked the sixth yahrzeit of Yitzhak Weinstock, a young American-Israeli who was murdered in a Palestinian Arab terrorist attack near Jerusalem. Hundreds of Jews have been murdered by Arab terrorists in Israel in the six years since the Oslo accords were signed, so perhaps it is no surprise that Yitzhak's name is not familiar to most Jews in Southern California. But it should be -- because he was one of our own.
Yitzhak Weinstock's grandfather was Rabbi Simon Dolgin, for more than three decades the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills. Beth Jacob donated a sefer Torah in Yitzhak's memory to a synagogue in the Israeli town of Eli. Yitzhak's mother, Sharon, graduated from Los Angeles's Hillel Hebrew Academy, the Rambam Torah Institute, and Fairfax High School.
By all accounts, Yitzhak was an extraordinary young man and a deeply committed patriot. He combined his high school yeshiva studies with a program that prepared him for military service, and in his spare time volunteered to bring care packages to soldiers stationed in remote outposts. The day before he was drafted into the Israeli Army -- a day he anticipated with pride -- he was a passenger in a car that broke down north of Jerusalem. As the travelers were repairing the vehicle by the side of the road, Palestinian Arab terrorists riddled them with bullets, murdering Yitzhak and another passenger in the car, a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher. Since then, 11 more Americans -- including 14-year-old Yael Botwin of Los Angeles -- have been among the victims of Arab terrorism in Israel.
The Weinstock case is particularly tragic because the name of the terrorist who masterminded the attack is known -- and he still is roaming freely. Israeli officials have informed the Weinstock family that a senior Hamas official, Mohammed Dief, planned the attack. Dief lives in the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority.
About a year later, in October 1994, another American-Israeli, Nachshon Wachsman, was kidnapped and murdered by Hamas. Israeli officials said publicly that Dief was behind the attack. The next time President Clinton visited Israel, he made a point of accompanying Wachsman's parents to his gravesite, and promised them that capturing Dief would be "a top American priority." Both the Wachsmans and the Weinstocks must have felt hopeful after President Clinton's statement because Gaza is a very small area, and the Palestinian Authority has more policemen per capita than any other police force in the world. With so many police officers, and with the United States government apparently so interested in capturing him, how hard could it be to find Dief?
Yet, nearly four years have passed since President Clinton's promise, and Dief still is a free man. Israel formally has asked Arafat to extradite Dief, but Arafat has ignored that request, as he has ignored the other 44 Israeli requests for the extradition of terrorists. Another option would be to prosecute Dief in the United States - after all, American law permits the prosecution in the United States of individuals who murder Americans abroad. Bringing them to America for trial and imprisonment also could have a powerful deterrent effect on would-be terrorists. Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) has pointed out that "bringing the Palestinian Arab murderers of Americans to justice in the United States will help prevent the future murders of Americans and Israelis."
Sadly, however, the Clinton administration's actions on this issue have not matched the strong words that President Clinton uttered at Nachshon Wachsman's grave. The administration has never demanded that Arafat hand over Dief or other murderers of Americans for prosecution in the U.S. The administration has never even criticized Arafat for sheltering those who have murdered Americans. And, while the administration offers multi-million dollar rewards for information leading to the capture of terrorists who have killed Americans abroad (and advertises the rewards on the State Department's web site, www.heroes.net), it has never offered rewards for the capture of Palestinian Arabs who have murdered Americans in Israel.
As we reflect on Yitzhak Weinstock's sixth yahrzeit and think about the tragic loss of a wonderful young man and the suffering that a family from our community has endured, let us all consider ways in which we can help try to attain justice. We can call the White House to urge that rewards be offered for the capture of Mohammed Dief. We can call our U.S. Senators and Representatives and ask them to speak out against Arafat's sheltering murderers of Americans. We can ask our rabbis to help raise public consciousness by speaking about Yitzhak Weinstock from the pulpit. We can ask our day school principals to encourage their students to write letters to our elected officials.
It is the least we can do for one of our own.
Rabbi Dov Fischer, a member of the National Executive Committee of the Zionist Organization of America and of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation Council's Jewish Community Relations Committee, practices complex civil litigation at the law offices of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld