With war raging against Hezbollah, it's easy to overlook Israel's other threat. The events five years ago provide a stark reminder of the enemy across our southern border: Hamas.
On Aug. 9, 2001, two Palestinian Arabs, Izzadin al-Masri, the 22-year-old son of a well-to-do restaurateur, and Ahlam Tamimi, a 20-year-old university student and part-time journalist, set out. Hamas had trained and equipped them. Tamimi had scouted for and located the target — the popular Sbarro's restaurant in downtown Jerusalem.
Tamimi, in revealing Western clothing, was disguised as a young Israeli woman. Masri had a guitar case slung over his shoulder, packed with 5 kilograms of explosives — along with nails, screws and bolts to exacerbate the injuries. When they reached the unguarded entrance to the crowded pizzeria, Tamimi and Masri parted. He entered the eatery alone and detonated his bomb.
My 15-year-old daughter, Malki, had entered moments earlier with her friend, Michal Raziel. I know from speaking with a survivor that the girls were standing on line waiting to order. Each was urging the other to go first. That was all I knew about what happened inside the restaurant that afternoon — until I interviewed Esther Shoshan.
"I was upstairs with one of my daughters," Shoshan recalled. "We'd wanted to sit downstairs where it's roomy, near the windows. But it was too crowded. Two of my daughters had gone to park the car. Two others, Miriam and Yocheved, went down to the lower level to get our food.
"Then there was an enormous blast. The place went dark. People started screaming, 'Pigua! Pigua!' " — terror attack.
"We ran downstairs. There was a terrible stench. I saw body parts everywhere. Here a limb, there a head. The bodies were bloated. There was water everywhere; I have no idea where it came from. I searched for my children. My two daughters who had gone to the car park arrived seconds later. The older one came inside and found Miriam and Yocheved. They were on fire. She managed to put out the flames but then was rushed away by rescue workers."
Shoshan was taken to a local hospital. She left shortly afterward to keep searching for the two children she had left at the scene. She located Miriam, 15, at Hadassah-University Hospital. She had suffered third-degree burns on 40 percent of her body. Sixty nails were lodged inside her, many only millimeters from vital organs. Her spleen was ruptured and there was a gaping hole in her right thigh.
Yocheved, 10, could not be found. Later that day, a cousin and uncle identified her body at the Abu Kabir morgue. She was buried at midnight.
All told, 15 people died in the Sbarro attack that day, including eight children, and 130 were injured. Since then, their families have been grappling with grief.
Encountering other Sbarro victims strengthens my resolve to keep the memory of this crime alive. When, as happens a lot these days, the Israeli government mentions the possibility of a prisoner release, a shiver goes down my spine. Hamas is demanding the release of women prisoners, including Tamimi — who is serving 16 life sentences in an Israeli prison — in exchange for a captured Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
The Israeli government has steadfastly refused to release terrorists with blood on their hands. In any case, remorse or repentance could not be further from Tamimi's mind.
She made this clear five months ago when she told journalists: "I'm not sorry for what I did. I will get out of prison and I refuse to recognize Israel's existence. We will become free … and then I will also be free from prison,'' she said.
Along with the other Sbarro families, I remember my lost loved one. We are determined to help keep their murderer, Ahlam Tamimi, behind bars until the end of her days.
Frimet Roth is an American-born Israeli writer whose daughter was murdered in the Sbarro's terrorist attack.