Written by CAMERA intern and Israel trip participant Lilia Gaufberg
Arnold Roth remained composed as he told his heartbreaking story. The members of CAMERA’s Student Leadership Mission to Israel listened with intent, sensing the tragic tone of his narrative. Arnold ran his fingers through his white hair, his hand quivering slightly. He had hints of an Australian accent in his soft voice, a homage to his home country. He had been living in the greater Jerusalem area for years; he had raised his family and had created a life for himself in Israel as an attorney and a technology business manager. He was well aware that living within the turmoil of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a package deal that came with deciding to make a home in the Jewish state. However, nothing could have prepared him for the tragic event of August 9th, 2001, in the throes of the second intifada, or ‘Arafat’s war’, as Arnold called it. Malki, Arnold’s beautiful fifteen-year-old daughter, took a trip to get a slice of pizza with her friend at the Sbarro’s in the heart of Jerusalem. As she was at the counter placing her order, a young man with a guitar case on his back walked in to the restaurant. However, the man was no musician; the case contained a bomb, which was detonated seconds later.
Malki and her friend were 2 out of 15 people who were killed on the spot. Among those killed were seven children and one pregnant woman. 130 others were severely wounded. The people affected were of a variety of ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds. A mother of a 2-year-old has been unconscious since that horrible day.
The man who carried the bomb into the restaurant had not been working solo; he was a pawn in the dirty plan of a young woman named Ahlam Tamimi. This woman also happened to be a prominent news anchor on the Palestinian Authority’s official television station in Ramallah. She left the scene in Jerusalem minutes before the explosion, went straight to Ramallah from Jerusalem, and sat in front of the cameras in order to report on the tragedy that she had just orchestrated. She was caught by the Israeli authorities soon after the incident, was charged and convicted, and was sentenced to 16 life terms in prison. However, justice was not served; this woman, along with 1,027 other terrorists, walked free in October of 2011 in exchange for the return of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Losing a loved one to an act of hatred, according to Arnold Roth, has different kinds of consequences. As he put it, “She [Malki] was alive until the moment that she wasn’t.” Arnold spoke of the silence in his home and community after the atrocity. Even though six children on his street alone had been killed since the beginning of the second intifada, and approximately 1,000 families solely in Jerusalem, people were overall silent. There is a striking similarity, Arnold explained, between victims of terror. However, there were conversations between grieving families that simply did not occur, words of understanding that were not exchanged, because there was no way to adequately express the suffering and loss that had engulfed their lives.
Above: Arnold Roth sharing his experiences.
In September of 2008, Arnold was invited by the Secretary General of the United Nations, along with a delegation of Israeli victims of terror, to speak to the UN at a conference dedicated to allowing people whose lives had been shaken by terrorism to share their stories. Arnold told us that there was much resistance within the UN at the thought of Israelis coming to share their experience with terrorism. At this same conference, Arnold was told by a government official that he, as an Israeli, was not a legitimate victim of terror, that he, as an Israeli, was not innocent, and that he, as an Israeli, had to push Israel to deal differently with the people that he “claimed” to be terrorists. Arnold was shocked at the suggestion that his daughter’s murder made sense because of some political context.
Arnold also talked about the coldness of the news reporters who asked him to share his story. In one instance, a woman from a prominent world news source asked Arnold to give an interview with the father of the boy who had murdered his daughter. The reporter was essentially treating Malki’s murder and the homicidal actions of this human bomb as tragedies of the same sort. While the main role of news reporters is to distill information into its essence and to deliver the objective facts, the tragedy that Arnold had lived through was not approached in this way. For Arnold Roth, the only purpose the news served was that of chewing up his painful, raw story into bite-sized pieces that fit a pre-developed narrative of what had happened.
Arnold ended his presentation on a hopeful note by talking about the non-profit foundation that he and his wife had started after his daughter’s murder, attributing the inspiration for the organization to Malki’s kind spirit in looking after her blind, disabled younger sister. Malki spent much of her time helping her sister in any way that she could, even though she knew that she would never receive a “thank you” in return for her efforts. She subsequently developed a deep passion for caring for handicapped children, and the summer before she was killed, Malki volunteered at a camp for children with cognitive impairments. Malki, according to Roth, embodied “chesed,” or kindness and love, which is one of the main virtues in the Jewish faith. Through the inspiration that Malki provided for her family, because of her beautiful spirit and her constant acts of chesed, Arnold Roth and his wife created the Keren Malki Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to provide care and assistance to families in Israel with disabled children, regardless of the family’s religion, ethnicity, or financial status.
Arnold Roth’s talk was tragically touching, and instilled in the entire group the horror inflicted by terrorism. His heartbreaking story helped us step out of the world of statistics, of distant catastrophes, and into the experience of one family very much like our own. One of the main lessons we learned from our conversation with Arnold is that terrorism does not respect international borders. It has universal commonalities; the terrorist who killed Malki did not hate her because of anything that she had done, but instead loathed her on principle, because of who she was, because she was an Israeli and a Jew. The people who suffered from this self-proclaimed martyr were not collateral damage to some political scheme; they were the target. This is what terrorism is; it knows no age, ethnicity or political background, it knows only harm. Terrorists set out with the goal of inflicting maximum pain and damage, destroying anyone who gets in their way. A catastrophe like the one that occurred in Arnold’s life is just that, a catastrophe, and it should be respected and treated as such. Nonetheless, in the wake of this horrific event, the light that was emanated by Malki continues to carry her loved ones. The Keren Malki Foundation brings hope to hundreds of families, and Malki’s chesed-filled spirit still inspires everyone whose life she has touched.