Thursday, November 07, 2002

Marla's Killers

They convicted Marla’s killers this week.

Four men, Wa'al Kassem, 31, Wissam Abassi, 25, Muhammad Odeh, 29, and Al'a a-Din Abassi, 30, were part of a Jerusalem-based Hamas cell that was responsible for, among others, the July 31 attack at Hebrew University, the March 9 bombing of the Moment Cafe, the May 7 suicide bombing in a pool hall in Rishon Lezion, and the attempted massive casualty operation at the Pi Glilot fuel depot north of Tel Aviv. All told, these four depraved individuals caused the deaths of 35 innocent Israeli civilians.

I have been following their stories for some time, from the moment they were arrested in September through the trial when the details of the attacks came out. The prosecution is asking for up to 35 life terms in prison for these men. There had been calls for the death penalty, but these have passed. There were names called and near-fistfights in the courtroom.

During the trial itself, we learned where the bomb was made and how it was transported to the Hebrew University’s Frank Sinatra Cafeteria. We learned, too, that the bomb didn’t work the first time. So it was removed, repaired and returned. Such a calculating approach. In a different context, this kind of attention to detail would be seen positively as taking pride in the quality and craftsmanship of one’s work.

This is supposed to be the moment where justice is done. The bereaved families confront the killers of their children and loved ones, look them straight in the eye and know with certainty that they will spend the rest of their days behind bars.

But something is wrong. I can’t seem to connect these four with Marla. Maybe I’ve watched too much television: murders are supposed to have a one-to-one connection, where the murderer knows his or her victim, where there is a personal motive. With terror, it is all so removed.

Marla's killers didn’t know their victims personally. They weren’t even around when it happened, detonating the bomb by remote control with a cellphone. If I yelled at them “You killed Marla,” they wouldn’t even know whom I was talking about. I’m supposed to want revenge. But how can I feel fury if the other side doesn’t know me or the victims?

As these thoughts - thoughts that no one should have to think - rattle around in my overtaxed brain, I realize that I preferred not knowing the details, not knowing the names, not being able to picture their faces. I was comforted more by the anonymity, of being able to cling to a core belief in the pure randomness of the act.

“Things happen.” “A cruel act of God.” “Wrong place at the wrong time.” Like a car crash on a dark and rainy highway where no direct blame can be placed. But these are all rationalizations that allow us to detach ourselves from the fact that four real people woke up one morning and set out to murder, and one of those killed was our dear cousin.

So now justice has been served. The dramatic Law and Order chapter of the story has been neatly wrapped up and the credits are rolling.

Offstage, though, I am left to sort out my feelings, deal with the pain that lasts long after the season finale, and to wonder why, if justice has indeed been served, I still feel so rotten.

Here are some links to stories about the trial and conviction:

- Jerusalem Post and Haaretz articles on the conviction this week.
- Details on how the attacks were planned and carried out.
- Jerusalem Post and Haaretz coverage of scuffles at the opening of the trial.

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