Suing To Stymie Arab Terrorism


Saying she wants to make Iranian-sponsorship of terrorism "so expensive that they will think twice about doing it," the mother of a 22-year-old New Jersey student killed in a Hamas bus bombing nearly three years ago is suing Iran over her daughter’s death.

Arline Duker, whose daughter Sara was among 24 victims of the Jerusalem attack, said that she and the parents of Matthew Eisenfeld, Saraís longtime boyfriend who also was killed, filed the $600 million suit this summer.

The suit by Duker, of Teaneck, and Vicki and Leonard Eisenfeld of West Hartford, Conn., is similar to one filed by Stephen and Rosalyn Flatow for the death of their daughter, Alisa, in a 1995 terrorist bus bombing in the Gaza Strip.

Although the Flatows, of West Orange, N.J., have not collected on the $247 million default judgment they won last year, Duker said laws and governments change over time and that "you never get justice without seeking it."

Steven Perles of Washington, the lawyer for all three families, said he expects Iranian officials to be served with the $600 million suit within the next 60 days. He said that under international law, the suit has to be handed to the Iranian foreign minister by a representative of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which is acting as the agent in such matters for the United States. Although the Clinton administration has moved to stop Perles from attaching Iranian assets here that were frozen by the U.S., the attorney plans to press ahead in court.

In addition, Perles said he is seeking money from an arbitration judgment Iran won in a commercial dispute with a California company. The company is appealing the judgment, but should it lose, Perles said "Iran wonít see that money." He said it amounts to several million dollars.

Perles said Iran reportedly will not respond to the suit and that he plans to seek a default judgment after presenting his case to a federal court in Washington sometime this summer. Vicki Eisenfeld said she hopes to collect on that judgment and to use the money to fight terrorism and "teach people how to get along instead of killing each other. Matthew and Sara were about peaceful kinds of things."

Sara was studying environmental microbiology "to make the planet more livable," said Eisenfeld. Matthew, 25, was a second year rabbinical student at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

"We have to do something that will stop the funding of terrorism," Eisenfeld said of the suit. "If you take away the money that supports that kind of behavior, hopefully you cut down the number [of terrorist attacks].

"We don’t want any other families to have to go through what we’ve been going through. It’s awful."

Eisenfeld, a jeweler, said that about a year ago she happened to turn on the television and see an interview with the imprisoned Arab mastermind behind the Feb. 25, 1996 bus bombing that killed her son.

"I was horrified," she said. "You watch in disbelief and horror. He made a drawing of how he put the bomb together and described how he recruited the man who did the suicide bombing.

"Would I strangle him? Come on, I’m human," Eisenfeld said. "He and others are responsible for killing my son. How would you expect me to feel? But God help me, don’t let me turn into him. I don’t want to live in hatred."

Eisenfeld said that she, her husband and their 25-year-old daughter, Amy, plan to travel to Israel for Passover, the first time they have been there since the bombing.

"I’m sure it will be an emotional trip for us," she said. "We’re going to visit the site of the bombing and some of the places Matt was before he died. Until now, we haven’t been ready to go."

Duker, a widow, said she returned to Israel in 1997 with one of her daughters, Tammy, who was studying at Ben Gurion University in the Negev at the time her sister was killed. Duker said her other daughter, Ariella, is studying in Israel this semester as part of her senior year at the Solomon Schechter High School. "We have friends and family in Israel," said Duker. "It’s a part of us."

Of the suit, she said: "It’s not about money for us but to do something that will make a global impact and try to make a change in the way the world operates.

"That may sound like a very grandiose notion, but we are dealing with countries that have no conscience, that train people to murder innocent people all over the world," Duker said. "If there is anything we can do to change people and to stop this, we have an obligation to do it."