At 7:53 a.m. local time on Aug. 21, 1995, a Number 26 bus filled with Monday morning commuters slowed to a stop in front of Rene Kassem High School in the northern Ramat Eshkol suburb of Jerusalem.
Rene Kassem just happened to be out of session that day; its students owe their lives to a fluke of the academic calendar. But passengers on the Number 26 were not so lucky, for sitting with them was Sufian Jabarin, a recent Hamas recruit, who chose that moment to blow himself up.
The force of the explosion was enough to set adjacent traffic on fire and blow in windows hundreds of feet away. Witnesses reported seeing two small girls walk away from the immediate wreckage, covered in blood but without their clothes or hair and crying for their mother. Few of their fellow passengers could walk at all, however. One body was left suspended from a shard of metal on what had been the bus's roof. Others remained in their seats--mutilated, blackened by the flames, at least one of them decapitated.
Among the dead was 47-year-old schoolteacher Joan Davenny, an American from Woodbridge, Connecticut, who had just begun a fellowship sabbatical at Hebrew University. Today, almost seven years later, our State Department's Diplomatic Security Service still offers a reward of up to $5 million dollars for "information" leading to the arrest or conviction of "those persons responsible" for Davenny's murder.
Which is rather peculiar, since "information" is not what's needed to close the case. The bomber himself, Sufian Jabarin, is dead, of course. The mastermind of Jabarin's Hamas cell, Yahya Ayyash, the infamous "Engineer," was assassinated in January 1996. The man who gave Jabarin his explosives, Muhhi a-Din Sharif, killed himself by accident with another such device in 1998. Abdel Nasser Issa, who manufactured Jabarin's bomb, and Abd al-Majid Dudin, who trained him in the art of "martyrdom," are both in Israeli prisons. Only Muhammad Dief, the Hamas commander who authorized the attack that killed Joan Davenny, is still alive and free.
And where is Dief, exactly? The Weekly Standard has "learned"--because it has been a publicly acknowledged fact for years and years already; the State Department can keep its $5 million--that Yasser Arafat has him. Denying news reports that he has actually set the man loose on the sly, Yasser Arafat insists that Muhammad Dief remains in Palestinian Authority custody, at an undisclosed location, so as to protect him from arrest by the Israelis.
In other words: Yasser Arafat, who the American government officially pretends is "indispensable to Middle East peace," is shielding a fugitive wanted in connection with the murder of a U.S. citizen. In fact, Yasser Arafat, who pretended to condemn that murder at the time, later threw a full state funeral for the murderer, suicide bomber Sufian Jabarin, after his body was returned by the Israelis in June of 2000. As thousands of Palestinians watched and cheered, Arafat's personal guard detail gave Jabarin a 21-gun hero's salute.
Arafat must think we Americans are fools.
And then there is the governing royal family of Saudi Arabia, which provides a handsome financial bounty to the surviving relatives of "martyrs" like Jabarin. Oh, sure, the Saudis reject the accusation. Just last week, responding to Israel's latest and best-yet effort to document the practice, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the kingdom's ambassador to the United States, denounced as "baseless" any suggestion that Saudi money "goes to evildoers." The Israelis, Prince Bandar complained, are engaged in a "shameful and counterproductive" attempt to discredit his family, "which has been a leading voice for peace." Any charge "that Saudi Arabia is paying suicide bombers," he reiterated, is "totally false."
The ambassador was lying. And he has so far gotten away with it. Nearly a week has gone by and still no major American newspaper has noticed--just as the hapless Saudi functionaries who posted Bandar's indignant statement on their Washington embassy website apparently failed to notice--that the very same website's archives contain some quite elaborate and extensive boasting, helpfully translated into English, about exactly what the prince now denies is true.
An embassy press release from January 2001 describes how the "Saudi Committee for Support of the Al-Quds Intifada," chaired and administered by Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, the kingdom's interior minister, has distributed $33 million to "deserving Palestinians," including "the families of 2,281 prisoners and 358 martyrs."
An embassy press release from March 2001 quotes Saudi finance minister Ibrahim al-Assaf reporting on the kingdom's $50 million contribution to an international, pan-Arab fund designed "to educate the sons of martyrs and rehabilitate the injured"--this in addition to Prince Nayef's separate support committee, which has "pledged a sum of SR 20,000 ($5,333) to each family that has suffered from martyrdom."
An embassy press release from April 2001 announces that "Prince Sultan Affirms [the] Kingdom's Support" for the Palestinian intifada, to the tune of $40 million already disbursed "to the families of those martyred" and other worthies.
As it happens, all this talk of "martyrs" and "martyrdom" is not at all uncommon in Saudi Arabia. Less than a month ago, for example, the government-controlled daily Al-Jazirah published a hymn of praise to two recent Palestinian "martyrs"--both suicide bombers, one of them a 16-year-old girl: "May Allah have mercy on you, oh beloved of the Arab nation . . . you restored life that had begun to expire," et cetera.
So, then: If suicide bombers are martyrs, and the Saudi royal family is proudly distributing cash to the relatives of martyrs, an ordinary person would conclude--would he not?--that the Saudi royal family is proudly distributing cash to the relatives of suicide bombers. But that is a logic the United States and other Western governments, desperate to preserve their "friendship" with the "moderate" House of Saud, have so far refused to accept. Instead, they have wished the evidence away: "troubling," they've mumbled, but "unconfirmed" and therefore "inconclusive."
Yes, well. Now the evidence is such that none of those terms even remotely applies, not even "troubling"--appalling being much the better word for it.
Three months ago, you see, on February 18, an outfit called the "Psychological and Social Research Center for the Wounded Palestinian" ran a notice in Ramallah's Al Hayyat Al Jedida newspaper addressed to "families of the fatalities" scheduled to receive contributions from the "tenth payment cycle" of the Saudi Committee for Support of the Al-Quds Intifada. Those families, the notice advised, should "apply to the Arab Bank branch near their residence" to receive payments of $5,216.06 apiece--"in accordance with the instructions of the Emir Nayef bin Abdulaziz, Minister of the Interior and General Supervisor of the Committee."
And early last week, Israel made public a cache of documents, lately captured by its soldiers during Operation Defensive Shield, that clarify exactly what the emir's instructions entail and who those "families of the fatalities" might be. According to Saudi government spreadsheets bearing the logo of the Saudi Committee for Support of the Al-Quds Intifada, that committee's aforementioned "tenth payment cycle" included among its beneficiaries the relatives of eight Palestinian terrorist bombers, all of them specifically and explicitly singled out by Saudi bookkeepers for their participation in amaliah istishadiah: "suicide operations."
Oh, and one other thing: The Israelis have also captured and now made public similar Saudi spreadsheets exhaustively chronicling an earlier, "third payment cycle" of the Interior Ministry's intifada "charity." During which payment cycle, these documents establish in deadpan bureaucratese, that slush fund provided one of its standard rewards--again, for their martyred loved one's performance of amaliah istishadiah--to the family of . . . Sufian Jabarin, the man who blew up the Number 26 bus in Jerusalem on August 21, 1995, killing Joan Davenny.
There you have it. The Saudi royal family, according to its own internal records, has just recently paid a hefty cash prize for the murder of a U.S. citizen.
Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post has bothered to report this astonishing little detail. And no U.S. government official has managed to utter a peep of complaint about it.
The Saudis, too, must think we Americans are fools. Surely it would behoove our president to disabuse them of this notion?
David Tell is the opinion editor at The Weekly Standard.