Beliefnet

On February 25, 1996, Matthew Eisenfeld and his girlfriend, Sara Duker, were among 26 victims of a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem. Eisenfeld, 25, a rabbinical student from Connecticut, was spending the year in Israel as part of his rabbinical training, and Duker, 22, was working as a research technician in a microbiology lab at Hebrew University.

The day Eisenfeld died, a Sunday, I was in the newsroom of the small paper I worked for. I was the only reporter on duty and the only person in the building when CNN reported the names of the bombing victims--and when I realized that I knew one of those names.

Matt Eisenfeld and I weren't close, but we were friends. In college, our paths crossed often, and our social circles were similar and overlapping. We'd see each other at the Shabbat services he led, at the kosher dining hall on campus, at parties. After hearing about his death, I spent the afternoon reading wire reports, staring in disbelief, watching pictures move over the wires, and calling friends. Days later, I was among the 1,000 people at the funeral.

Two years later, Eisenfeld's and Duker's parents--Vicki and Leonard Eisenfeld and Arline Duker--filed a federal lawsuit against the Islamic Republic of Iran, accusing that nation of sponsoring and encouraging Hamas, the terrorist group that had carried out the bus bombing. In recent years, an increasing number of terrorist victims and their families have turned to the courts. In most cases, the countries or organizations being sued don't respond at all, thereby defaulting on the suits and paving the way for enormous monetary judgments against them--which are, predictably, ignored. In the Eisenfeld-Duker case, the families are seeking a total of $600 million from Iran, hoping that the suit--and others like it--will deter Iran from sponsoring other terrorist activities.

At a press conference last month, the Eisenfelds spoke out in favor of pending legislation that would make it easier for plaintiffs in such lawsuits to collect on the judgments. They also criticized the omission of Eisenfeld and Duker from a State Department website, www.heroes.net, which lists instances of terrorism and offers a reward for the terrorists' capture.

In fact, no references to terrorism in Israel appear on heroes.net. The Eisenfelds can only guess at why. When asked about the absence of Israeli victims, Andy Laine, a State Department spokesman, said, "All that I can say is that the issue is currently under active discussion by the department. We hope to have a decision on that in the near future."

Recently, Leonard Eisenfeld spoke with me about the lawsuit, the State Department website, and coping with a grief that will never go away:


Michael Kress: Where does the lawsuit stand, and what's the next step?

Leonard Eisenfeld: On May 1, there's a trial in Washington, in federal district court. Our complaint was that Iran had sponsored Hamas financially, logistically, and through the training of personnel, and had actually given the order for this particular incident.

Iran has defaulted on the case, and we're expecting the result to be fairly similar to other cases where there have been defaults. The problem is that once the judgments are rendered, there's no way of having them satisfied. So that's where the challenge is politically.

MK: You're advocating the passage of a bill that will help you in those efforts. How will this federal legislation work?

LE: If the bills pass, then when a judgment occurs in an anti-terrorism suit, property belonging to the defendant may be seized and sold in order to satisfy the judgment. For example, there have been attempts to seize Iranian property to satisfy monetary judgments.

What we're trying to do is make some kind of deterrent, to prevent such incidents from happening again to other families or victims themselves, because we know how devastating it has been for our family to go through this. So we're going to be appearing in front of a judge and discussing the facts of the case. It's going to be a two-day trial.

MK: Are you expecting Iran to send a representative?

LE: No. The key thing for us is that it's an opportunity for us to direct a response to Matthew and Sara's murder. How do you respond to something like this? The lawsuit is only one way.

We're still mourning. It's something that just doesn't go away. People talk about closure. This doesn't close. You wake up in the morning with it, and you go to sleep with it. We're trying to support each other emotionally.

And then we try to do concrete things, so we've become active in issues of preventing terrorism, discouraging it, through both international police action and financial deterrents.

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