It was three years ago this week that Palestinian Arab murderers bombed Jerusalem's cheery, cafe-lined Ben Yehuda Street into a nightmare of death and destruction - murdering, among others, Yael Botwin, a 14-year-old girl from Claremont. This past week, Mahmoud Abu-Hanud, the butcher who masterminded the murders, finally was uncovered. Yet, paradoxically, he still walks free, while three Israeli soldiers lie dead after their failed effort to apprehend him.
If the good news is that this murderer who topped Israel's most-wanted list was wounded in the shootout with Israeli soldiers, the bad news is that he managed to elude capture and make his way safely and securely to the nearby city of Shechem (Nablus), which now is controlled by Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority. The authoritarians who run that Authority have announced that Abu-Hanud will not be handed over to the Israeli defense forces. And in the World of Oslo, there is nary a thing that Israel can do about it.
Is there any hope for bringing Abu-Hanud to justice? Over the past six years, on 45 different occasions - that's right, 45 times - Israel formally has requested that Arafat extradite terrorists for prosecution. Under the Oslo accords, Arafat is obligated to honor such requests. He has to. But this is Arafat, and this is Oslo. Consequently, he never has done so, and there is little reason to believe that he will in this lifetime. Instead, in an Arafat attempt to get Abu-Hanud out of the media spotlight quickly, the Palestinian Authority may stage one of its infamous quickie trials.
Typically, terrorists "tried" by the Authority either are set free, are given extremely lenient sentences, or are permitted to "escape." Earlier this year, Israel's foreign minister declared forthrightly that "the high incidence of supposed jailbreaks by dangerous prisoners" from Palestinian Authority prisons effectively serves as a political cover for "the Palestinian Authority releasing Hamas activists from jail."
So if it is justice that we wish to pursue, it will not be through Arafat's Palestinian Authority that Yael Botwin's murderer is punished.
That compels us to pursue justice - to "think outside the box." Indeed, there is another option for getting this butcher before the bar of justice: American law formally authorizes the prosecution in the United States of individuals who murder Americans abroad. Thus, Abu-Hanud may be tried for murder right here in California, just like Buford O'Neal Furrow Jr.
In the aftermath of the tragically failed Israeli attempt to nab Abu-Hanud, seven member-organizations of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations have urged President Clinton to demand that the Palestinian Authority surrender Abu-Hanud to the U.S. for prosecution. And a citizens' group of American survivors, all wounded in Abu-Hanud's attacks, have issued a statement noting that "Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has referred to Arafat's justice system as a 'revolving door.' Terrorists detained by Arafat are routinely set free or given shockingly lenient sentences. Abu-Hanud must be brought to the United States and face American justice."
The response of the Los Angeles community to the challenge has been rather dramatic. During the past two summers, local Zionist Organization of America activists successfully initiated public campaigns on this issue. Two years ago, 30 Los Angeles rabbis - transcend-ing denominational and political barriers, ranging the full spectrum from Orthodox to Reform and from those who support Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria to those who support the Peace Now agenda - signed a petition urging President Clinton to press Arafat to capture Abu-Hanud and to transfer him to the United States for prosecu-tion. This past summer, more than 400 Los Angeles-area teenagers signed a similar petition and pledged a combined total of more than $5,000 to a reward fund for information leading to the capture of all the terrorists who murdered Yael Botwin and 19-year-old Yitzhak Weinstock, grand-son of Rabbi Simon Dolgin, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Jacob.
(Tragically, the Clinton administration persistently has resisted offering such rewards, although the State Department routinely offers similar rewards for information leading to the capture of other terrorists who have murdered Americans abroad. For a first-hand look at this double standard, readers can view the State Department's reward Web site at www.heroes.net.)
Yael Botwin's third yahrtzeit could have marked an auspicious occasion to rejoice that one of her murderers finally was apprehended. Instead, another round of pain and frustration - for Yael's family, for families of the fallen Israeli soldiers, and for Jews everywhere - now begins.
We can try to alleviate some of that pain by promoting the call to justice. We can call the White House to urge the president to pressure Arafat to hand over Abu-Hanud. We can call our U.S. senators and representatives and ask them to demand that Arafat stop sheltering those who murder Americans. With the High Holy Days approaching, we even can ask our rabbis to help raise public consciousness of this unnecessary outrage by recalling from the pulpits the tragedy of Yael Botwin and of the fallen Israeli soldiers and demanding, for once and for all, that Arafat hand over the butchers whom he and his Authoritarians are protecting.
He can hand them to the Israelis, as Oslo requires. He can hand them to the United States as American law provides. His choice. But it is time.