The U.S. State Department will now include American victims of Palestinian terror on its Rewards for Justice Program, which offers "substantial monetary rewards"for information leading to the arrest or conviction of people responsible for acts of terrorism.
The government's decision to include victims of Palestinian terror victims was spurred, in part, by an inquiry from Wendy Madnick, a Jewish Journal reporter, in connection with a July 2000 Journal article.
"The Journal's reporter called the State Department and got a quote that articulated State Department policy distinguishing between the murder of Americans-qua-Americans versus the murder of Americans stam [simply]," said Rabbi Dov Fisher, whose daughters led a public awareness campaign on the issue. "That quote was one of the first times that someone from [the State Department] provided a quotable quote to a journalist for publication, and that quote's publication gave the Zionist Organization of America [ZOA] something tangible to counter during its lobbying in Washington, D.C.," said Fisher, head of the ZOA in Los Angeles and frequent Journal contributor.
The State Department is asking American families whose relatives were killed by Palestinian terrorists for permission to post their stories -- along with rewards for information -- on the Internet. Between 50 and 60 letters are being sent to families of Americans killed by Palestinian violence.
Stephen Flatow has already responded. His daughter Alisa was killed in April 1995, when a suicide bomber affiliated with Islamic Jihad blew up a bus near Kfar Darom, a settlement in the Gaza Strip. Alisa, 20, of West Orange, N.J., was taking a break from her studies at Brandeis University to visit Israel.
Until the recent State Department decision, Flatow said he had felt there was what he called a double standard, between efforts to apprehend those who kill Americans in other parts of the world and Palestinians who attack Americans. "We always felt we were being treated like the foster kids," he said.
State Department officials say the decision to broaden the rewards program is not a response to the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, but had been under consideration for months as the administration weighed the legalities.
In September 2000, the State Department said it did not want to post rewards for information on Americans killed in the Middle East because of efforts by Israel and the Palestinian Authority to apprehend suspects. At that time, 60 of 65 suspects were either dead or in custody, they said.
However, the last year of violence -- when the Palestinian Authority released many prisoners from its jails -- forced the United States to change tactics, officials said.
Morton Klein, national president of the ZOA, said that in other parts of the world the U.S. government actively seeks information related to the deaths of Americans, including advertising in print and broadcast media and on billboards. "We are urging the State Department to try to capture these killers in the same way as they do in other countries," Klein said.
Matthew E. Berger of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.