WASHINGTON, April 5 (JTA) — Jewish organizations are concerned about a State Department report released last week that said the United States still will not offer rewards for information about American citizens killed by Palestinian terrorists.
In its semiannual report on terrorist activity in the region, the State Department said its program offering rewards for finding the killers of Americans abroad — the “Reward for Justice” program — does not apply in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The Department of State, in coordination with other U.S. agencies, believes that publicizing rewards in the cases of the remaining fugitives would be detrimental to ongoing efforts to capture them and could increase the danger to American citizens and facilities overseas, particularly for the thousands of Americans who live and travel in the Holy Land,” the report said.
The report said, however, that it might consider giving up to $5 million to people who provide information about any of the 12 Americans murdered in the region.
The Zionist Organization of America, which long has advocated rewards for the capture of Palestinians who have killed Americans, was outraged by the report.
“Clearly, the State Department is doing anything they can to protect Arafat’s image,” ZOA President Morton Klein said. “They are refusing to admit that he harbors killers of Americans.”
The issue of rewards was raised last month in a meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella group of 54 Jewish organizations.
“It sends the message that Americans killed in Israeli areas are treated differently than those in Europe or other areas,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents. “The message should be that Americans are treated the same no matter where they are.”
Hoenlein said the State Department’s argument that rewards discourage the capture of terrorists in Israel — but not, apparently, in other parts of the world — is illogical.
“If it’s an impediment to capture, it should be an impediment everywhere,” Hoenlein said. “Why would that not apply universally?”
He said that while reward money probably would not lead to the killers’ extraditions, it would be a signal that the United States take the murders seriously.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has taken a more moderate tone on the issue.
“Terrorists who have murdered American citizens should be pursued and brought to justice,” AIPAC spokesman Kenneth Bricker said. “Anything that further contributes to this apprehension, we support.”
The report states that the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority have been working to bring the terrorists to justice, and that the United States wants to “avoid interfering with those efforts.”
It also said that the victims were not targeted because of the fact that they were American.
ZOA has been raising the issue of rewards for Palestinians who kill Americans for years, but the State Department has resisted the idea. Last year, then-U.S. Special Middle East Coordinator Dennis Ross said money could not be offered in those cases “for reasons of national security,” Klein said.
The report identifies 66 suspects accused of involvement in attacks that killed 12 American citizens and wounded 18. The department found that 23 of the suspects were in Israeli custody, 13 were in P.A. custody, 27 were dead and four remain at large.
The status of the men in P.A. custody is uncertain, however, because many Palestinian prisoners “escape” from prison or are released when tension with Israel mounts.
A spokesman for the State Department was unavailable for comment.
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