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Release of prisoners bittersweet for family, friends of terror victims

In August of 2002, less than 24 hours after hearing about the death of a dear friend, Marla Ann Bennett, I wrote a column in a prominent British newspaper about the world’s loss. Marla was one of a number of people killed in the bombing of the Hebrew University’s Mt. Scopus campus Frank Sinatra cafeteria. A popular meeting point for the foreign students studying abroad, the dead also included Israelis (Jews and Arabs).

Less than 24 hours after watching the man responsible for the attack walk free from an Israeli prison as part of the Gilad Schalit exchange deal, another very dear of friend of mine in Califoria resent the article, along with his own comments. Below I have included both.

…to the memory of Marla Anna Bennett, z”l

Marla Bennett, an American killed in Jerusalem in 2002 (courtesy: MBFS)


I found an email that you sent out immediately following the tragic loss of Marla. It struck me because today we found out that her killers walked free.

On a day of such joy for the Jewish state and the Jewish people, I can’t help but feel somewhat deflated that real killers are going out into the world to live and celebrate.

I think I want to just thank you. Because you captured that moment that we all lost Marla and I’m blessed that I have that note from you to help me process everything that is going on now.

—–Original Message—–
From: Roee Ruttenberg
Sent: Friday, August 02, 2002 6:42 AM
Subject: Remember Marla!

Dear Sirs,

It has been said that “some things are true, whether you believe them or not.” It has been less than 24 hours since I discovered that my dear friend Marla was amongst the dead in Wednesday’s bombing at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. And despite my unwillingness to accept it – I still feel her smile and warmth, and my first reaction was to call her mobile – it is true, whether I believe it or not.

Marla committed no crime. She bore no burden for which she deserved punishment. Rather she was a sweet and caring human being. (Her email address even contained the word “cheerful”.)

Did she – a 24-year old girl from San Diego, California, writing her final essay on religious law – pose a threat to Palestinian interests? Could it be that, as she and her friend Benjamin entered the university cafeteria for lunch, they had ulterior motives other than eating? Perhaps they were planning the next Israeli offensive?

Anyone who knew Marla (“Marls,” or “Marla-Bean” as I admiringly referred to her) knew that she posed no threat to anything around her. She was kind and gentle, a high standard to which others shall always compare themselves. She was soft. She was warm. She was brilliant. She was loved. And she is missed.

I wish no one the pain and shock that I went through in discovering that she had been killed. Scrolling down a list of names on an internet news website, I was absolutely gutted and deflated in seeing one I recognized. But it is a mere shadow of the anguish being felt by her family and close circle of friends as you read this. I hope you never endure even a minor percentage of that pain.

Marla was to fly back home to the U.S. on Friday. Instead, what remains of her will be flown home over the weekend. She is survived by a family that loved her, a community that adored her, and a world that needed her.

She leaves behind a void that no one shall ever fill. And that is true, whether you believe it or not.
Roee Ruttenberg

CLARIFICATION: As of 1618GMT, there is a bit of confusion surrounding the names on the list. There were six men arrested with connection to the Hebrew University bombing. One of them, Mahmud Uda (numerous spellings) was the painter at the university who is believed to be the one who actually placed the bomb under the table. There was a person released named “Shadi Saleh Mahmud Uda,” arrested on 2 August 2002 (three days after the bombing), which seems to suggest it is the same person. But Uda (the painter) was 29 years old at the time (of his arrest), this Uda (the prisoner released) is listed as having been born in 1982. The discrepancy was pointed out to me by close friends of Marla’s who have spent days scouring through lists trying to figure out who is and isn’t being released, essentially reliving their trauma from nine years ago.

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    1. Deïr Yassin

      This girl, Lamis, was 17 when she was blown up together with her famous uncle, Ghassan Kanafani – whose gun was his pen – in Beirut. The Mossad thugs who put the bomb in Ghassan’s car were never imprisonned, but rather got a promotion !
      I think about them – and hundreds of others – every time I see an Israeli in uniform….

      Reply to Comment
    2. @Deir Yassin
      His “gun was his pen”?
      This is the same Ghassan Kanafani who was photographed with the Japanese terrorists behind the 1972 attack on the Lod airport (that left dozens dead, including a significant number of foreign Christian pilgrims)? I don’t believe in guilt-by-association and I have been moved by some of his writing. But let’s not make him sound like some Sarah Jessica Parker typing away at a Starbucks in Soho.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Michael T

      congratulations Ruttenberg, you can google wikipedia.. now dont forget to call your relatives congratulate them for the holiday in their IDF bases..

      Reply to Comment
    4. @Michael T:
      Yes, I can google.
      And no, I don’t have relatives in the IDF.
      But way to make assumptions on both counts. That’s really the kind of commentary we need more of.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Deïr Yassin

      It’s possible that Kanafani has been photographed with Japanese “terrorists”. After all, he was a leading member of the PFLP. He still never wore a gun.

      Was Sarah Jessica Parker also ethnically cleansed from Akka in ’48 to give place to a Jewish State ?

      And the Lod Airport that you’re talking about is it the one that’s called Ben Gourion today ? Named after the guy saying “the old will die, the young will forget” ? Well, he was wrong ! 🙂

      The main point of my comment was that the thugs who killed Kanafani and his innocent niece just as thousands of other Palestinian and Arab civilians will never be released because they will never be imprisonned in the first place except in anything else than their mental shtetl.

      And while you mourn your friend, at least her killer went to prison. Israeli killers of Palestinians are often promoted, but then of course as Larry Derfner told me, they don’t have that Palestinian “streak of savagery”, that is they don’t “revel in the blood-and-guts killing of innocents”. No, the Israeli soldiers ‘cry while shooting’ those Palestinians who’ll never make it to the front pages of the media.

      Reply to Comment
    6. AYLA

      @Deir. Remember our exchange on the post when the Egyptian guest blogger wrote about his dear friend who was serving prison time and dying of a hunger strike? And remember how a certain commenter shot right back with something about his agenda that showed absolutely no sensitivity, or even acknowledgment, to the person who was losing his friend?


      First and foremost, Roee lost a friend. A young, innocent friend. After that, I would say that the Hebrew University bombing was among the saddest recent events on this land. I taught at Hebrew U for a semester, and my class was about a third Arab, and that was after this bombing that changed everything. Before, it was a unique mix of Jews and Arabs studying in an excellent institution of higher education in an atmosphere of trust, safety, and respect. This is the place where Morti Fogel, of the Fogel family, first had the opportunity to become friends with Arabs and discovered how they really felt about where his family had raised him (in a settlement), which in turn changed the course of his life and led him to be one of the most compassionate activists I’ve read. I’m guessing that the majority of Arabs who grew up here–and I recognize, very deeply, that there are many who should have who were not able to–but I’m guessing that most of them look upon that bombing as a collective tragedy, for all the people on this land.


      none of this takes away from the story you shared. one person’s suffering does not threaten another’s; it helps us empathize with each other.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Deïr Yassin

      @ Ayla
      Roee’s headline goes: “Release of prisoner bittersweet for family, friends of terror victims” and that was what I was responding to.

      The Palestinians never get that far: to feel bittersweet because the State terrorists are never imprisonned in the first place. Just take the case of Abir Aramin, one of hundreds.

      You’re free to see the bombing of the Hebrew University as a ‘collective tragedy’. To me this an assymetric warfare between colonizers and colonized, and it’s not your ‘peace-and-love-message’ that will stop the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians !

      And while we hear about the Jewish Israeli victims all over the Western MSM, we NEVER hear about the Palestinians. A French-American Jewish citizen was among the killed in the Hebrew University too, they had it going for days here, but when an elder French-Palestinian was refused medical assistance by the IDF and died of a heart attack at the Allenby Bridge a couple of years ago, no MSM even mentionned it.

      Don’t even get me started on Gilad Shalit, a French citizen too – though nobody really knows how he became French – and the media attention he has received compared to a French-Palestinian (with a French mother, and ONLY French citizenship) rotting in an Israeli prison. Sarko has met Shalit’s parents on four or five occasions, never had the time to met Salah Hammouri’s French mother !

      Reply to Comment
    8. AYLA

      @Deir–you know what? Sorry. Sorry I’ve taken on such a teacherly tone on my 972 comments lately–it’s not my place. I learn so much from many commenters here, including you, as you know. I just so, so badly yearn for us all to stop playing tragedy-ping pong, and to see ourselves in each other. There has to be a way us all to share what we want to share without disregarding each other. there has to be a way for us to first listen. and ideally, to all get to a point where we can see the interconnectedness of all of our lives, not as abusers-victims, but as warriors for a higher level of consciousness, wherever we are. I’m going to take Dahlia’s feedback to heart (too many words) and go work on the thing I came here to work on, that invites many words: my novel. also, it’s time I went back to my own blog. I’m going to try to comment much more sparingly here, on this excellent magazine.


      Roee–i’m so sorry for your, and the world’s, loss. Also for what was lost at Hebrew University that day: an oasis in the madness.

      Reply to Comment
    9. AYLA

      @Deir–we crossed posts; I was writing that apology to you before seeing your response to me. Thanks for your thoughtful response. You’re right about “peace and love” not solving our problems, and I myself am repelled by peace retreats here that have no difficult content, only kumbaya. And yet, there is a way in which seeing the true interconnectedness of all things is a precursor to change, and if we all get stuck batting tragedies back and forth to one-up each other, we’re only operating on a level of pain. Honestly, I can understand why it’s difficult for ISraelis that *certain* prisoners are being released. By any legal standard, they shouldn’t be. On the other hand, many, many should never have been there in the first place, by any legal standard. I do sympathize with the limited ways in which Palestinians can fight. Still, I believe in MLK’s model. Everyone feels that the media doesn’t represent them. I was talking to a commentator at NPR, and telling her how much it infuriated me that many american jews think NPR is pro-Palestinian, and she told me that also, many Palestinians think NPR is pro-Israel. She told me that people hear what they want to hear. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t get your word out. I’ve learned a lot from you. But each person here is a person, also with a story and pain and loss, and they’ll hear you better if they aren’t put on the defensive. Anyway, thank you.

      Reply to Comment
    10. AYLA

      p.s. I’m grateful I can place you on the map, now. I didn’t like thinking of you only as exile-consciousness.

      Reply to Comment
    11. USEsquire

      Roee–thank you for your comment. I appreciate it. The complexity of the Middle East is something that cannot be simply resolved. Your comment crystallized the nuance. It is not simple, and certainly there are many who have broken hearts and wounded egos. I hope that we all can agree death, murder, intimidation, and hate are no longer ways forward.

      If Israel is serious about peace it will sit down with those it despises and help the Palestinian People achieve economic independence and stable food and water supplies.

      If the Palestinians are serious about peace they will not celebrate the death of any person by terror–they will not laugh and celebrate Jewish pain or mock Jewish history. They will not encourage martyrs to blow themselves up near children, in shopping malls, or anywhere. They will not launch rockets on communities of people trying to live ordinary lives.

      Instead of apologies we need steps forward towards reconciliation. Instead of words, we need works. Instead of divisive language we need decisive action.

      Perhaps I am idealistic but every child born in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank deserve a future born in hope and not hate. Is that too much to ask?

      Reply to Comment