NEW YORK (Jul. 20)
Norma Lew’s life was changed forever on July 18, 1994, when her 21-year-old son Augustin was killed in the car bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires.
“Since that Monday, every single Monday has a different meaning for us,” Lew wrote in a letter read at a July 19 memorial service in New York.
“Every Monday is July 18, 1994, and will be the same until the truth is known, those responsible for the bombing and the death of our beloved ones are identified and brought into justice.”
The attack at the Argentine Mutual Israel Aid Jewish Community Center left 86 dead, some 300 injured and struck at the heart of the Argentine Jewish community, which only two years before had witnessed the terrorist bombing of the Israeli Embassy, also in Buenos Aires, which killed 29.
Both bombings remain unsolved.
Argentine officials are defending the government’s handling of the case, which has been criticized for moving slowly and for failing to follow important leads.
The arrests of 20 people who will stand trial for their involvement in the AMIA case has raised hopes in some quarters that more will be known about the local connection to the terrorists.
Of the 20 to be tried later this year or in early 2000 — whose ranks include no fewer than 15 policemen — five are thought to be “necessary parties to the bombing” and face charges of murder, conspiracy and corruption. According to news reports, Interior Minister Carlos Corach told reporters Monday that the government was doing all it could with regard to the AMIA bombing.
“There can be nothing more clear than the government’s wish to clarify this tragedy,” he is quoted as saying.
But in his fifth annual report for the American Jewish Committee on the status of the AMIA investigation, Argentine journalist Sergio Kiernan, who has written on the incident for JTA, describes the past 12 months as “a quiet year.”
He does, however, highlight several developments:
The official in charge of the investigation, Federal Judge Juan Jose Galeano, in a surprise move and with little material proof, accused the Iran-supported terrorist group Hezbollah with being involved in both bombings;
The judge interrogated two key foreign witnesses;
Those to be tried have lost all appeals before other courts;
The supervising court in the case ordered Galeano to carry out a reconstruction of the bombing to take place later this month or in early August;
In an interview with Kiernan, an attorney volunteering to represent AMIA in the investigation, Luis Dobniewsky, expressed hope that the trial of the 20 accomplices will enable Galeano to advance a full probe into the bombing.
But a founder of Memoria Activa, a group representing relatives of the victims, was pessimistic, saying that in the absence of public pressure to move the case forward, it “will effectively die with the trial.”
Criticizing Galeano as having ignored the pleas of the relatives of the dead to undertake numerous investigative procedures, Diana Malamud said the judge “did not want to carry out a reconstruction of the bombing: we had to force him to do so” by appealing to a higher court.
Malamud, whose husband died in the attack, was one of the thousands of people who attended a memorial ceremony Sunday in Buenos Aires, during which a siren sounded at 9:53 a.m., the exact moment of the 1994 bombing.
A reported 3,000 gathered at the new bomb-proof AMIA building, erected on the spot where the old building was destroyed.
This year’s ceremony was reportedly “unusually angry,” as family members criticized the investigation’s progress, and the crowd responded with whistles and jeers.
The mood at the New York memorial service, which was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, was similarly one of disappointment and frustration.
About 50 people — many carrying signs with photographs of the bombing victims — braved intense noonday heat to listen to speeches by political, religious and civic figures, including Jewish and Christian clergy and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).
Ralph Goldman, whose son, David Ben Raphael, was killed in the March 17, 1992, bombing of the Israeli Embassy, said his son was killed “because he was a Jew and an Israeli.”
Goldman, the honorary vice president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, believes there are international perpetrators as well as local authorities and police whom Argentina has not investigated.
He said he did not “find a will on the part of Argentine authorities to pursue this.”
“There is a cynicism about the way they are pursuing justice,” he said.
The New York gathering was held across the street from the Argentine Consulate in a deliberate attempt to demand justice.
After the service, as the crowd thinned and the signs were put away for yet another year, Goldman took the two white memorial candles for the victims of the two bombings — each imprinted with a blue Star of David — and placed them inside the consulate building.