A MELBOURNE-BORN girl was killed by a
suicide bomb more than a decade ago. Her death occupies her father's
mind every day, compounded by the release of the orchestrator of the
ARNOLD Roth's grief follows no guidebook. His daughter Malki was
killed a decade ago.
Yet it might have been last week, so clear is his recall of the 12
hours after the bomb blast, when Malki's fate lay in official limbo,
and Roth scrambled to a hospital on the mistaken tip that his
daughter lay unidentified on an operating table.
Malki's life and death is the "central theme" of Roth's thinking.
Each day, he sits in what was his daughter's bedroom, now his study,
and runs a Jerusalem technology company.
Roth sometimes gazes at the political campaign stickers, all bright
splashes and irony, his daughter used to paste on her bedroom walls.
The stickers remind him of her sunny ways, as do the cheques he
signs in her name, and the charity founded in her honour that helps
families with disabled children.
Yet the jar of her absence will never fade. He remembers later
retracing her final steps that day, her hurried farewell to her
mother dozing in bed that morning, then the trail of text messages
that placed Malki, inexorably, in a pizza restaurant where 15 people
were killed for no good reason.
The wait for news went on and on. About 2am on August 10, 2001, Roth
went numb at the confirmation of Malki's death. His daughter was 15
when she queued for lunch on a hot afternoon the day before. She had
no enemies. She did not subscribe to hateful beliefs that might
A young Arab man had sat down at a nearby table, gulped down his
final meal, and detonated a guitar case of explosives.
His was the first major suicide bombing in a campaign against
civilian targets in Israel. It changed everything; for the Roths,
obviously, but also for everyone else, everywhere. Humanity was
confronting a new blight, in this and 9/11 a few weeks later, that
remains rampant a decade on.
This bombing wasn't about territory or rights. There was no victory
sought, only terror to be wrought. Malki, born in Melbourne and
raised in Jerusalem, was murdered, as a Jew, in the name of God, or
Allah. She died for the sake of religion - gone wrong.
Roth's wife, Frimet, would weep in the streets. Roth, raised in
Northcote and Elwood, would sit at a computer and write a letter to
a Melbourne newspaper. He needed to send a message. He's been
writing and talking about his loss ever since.
Headaches still accompany the "exquisite pain" he feels when he
confronts his grief, such as when he addressed the United Nations in
2008. Of late, the headaches have become more frequent, as his
family has braced for a course of events that defies common sense or
The "monster" who has long boasted about plotting the restaurant
massacre was released from jail in October.
She accompanied the suicide bomber that day. She told him where to
detonate his bomb. She was supposed to die in prison serving a
sentence that stretched more than a millennium. Instead, as part of
a contentious prisoner swap, she was released after a decade, one of
about 1000 Palestinian prisoners exchanged for an Israeli solder,
Roth avoids using Ahlam Tamimi's name. Yet he knows "this woman"
plans to get married and have babies.
He also knows that his daughter's sweet countenance, that of a
teenager who played the flute, an older sister to a disabled child,
a student who hid tears in her final months at the growing number of
shootings and deaths in Israel, still means nothing to her killer.
For here's the jag that defies all natural justice: not only has
Tamimi been released from prison, to live freely in Jordan, she has
been exalted as a hero who preaches a murderous faith on her own
For Roth, it's akin to "Adolf Hitler surviving World War II, then
being given his own chat show".
Tamimi was 20 when she orchestrated the massacre, then, in her role
as a television journalist, returned to her studio to announce, with
evident glee, that there had been a bombing.
Ten years in jail did not soften her fanaticism. She preaches death
with a wide smile. Her cackling pitch is at odds with her soft
Yes, she beamed in a jailhouse interview, she helped kill children
that day. Was it eight children, she was asked? She thought it was
only three. No, why would she regret her actions?
A few years later, on her release, she said: "I would do it again
today, and in the same manner."
Roth trembles each time he sees "this woman". He wants to throw the
television against a wall. He doesn't, of course: rare is a voice
more considered, not only on his own child's loss, but on a conflict
so long and muddled that most observers long ago gave up on
Tamimi's name is set to his Google alert. He does not want
vengeance. He is careful not to obsess. Yet he does seek justice.
"She really is a monster," Roth says. "There is such a thing as
monsters. She's a human monster. She regales in the deaths of the
"She is genuinely animated by happiness in knowing that she killed
the children. There is something cold and monstrous and manipulative
and charismatic about this woman."
In recent weeks, Tamimi has claimed that Mossad, Israel's
intelligence service, had planned to assassinate her. Roth thinks it
is nonsense: listening to her extreme rhetoric, he says, he has
detected an increasingly delusional tone.
Adulated since her release, she now seems to believe the adulation
herself, he says. She is casting herself, somehow, as a lead victim
to an audience of victims.
Naturally, Roth, a former Swanston St lawyer, is upset by the
charade. He has heard talk of plans to capture Tamimi: Roth
understands the sentiment, of course, but he places little stead in
"She's not only a convicted perpetrator of a mass murder, she's also
encouraging other people to do the same," he says.
"And there are laws, including international laws, which make
incitement a crime. We are anxious to help the authorities in
various countries find a way to prevent her from spreading this
ROTH was born into loss. Like so many Jews born after the Holocaust,
his ancestry was largely erased in the diabolical ideology of the
His mother lost three brothers. His father, Abraham, one of 17
children, lost 15 siblings. Once, after digging his own grave in a
work camp, Abraham Roth was shot and left for dead.
Arnold Roth's Melbourne upbringing was about trips to the MCG, where
he saw Fred Trueman bowl the first ball of the 1962 Test. Roth still
follows Melbourne footy matches on the internet - not that the club
has offered him much light relief of late.
He was not raised as an orthodox Jew - this decision came later. He
moved to Israel in 1988. The desire for "aliyah" grew out of the Six
Day War, in 1967, when Israel's existence was perceived to be more
threatened than at any other time.
Roth believes "painful compromise" is needed on both sides of the
Israel-Palestine question. He also believes that no solution can be
forthcoming as long as Palestinian authorities educate their
children to "hate" Jews.
Yet politics drags him away from his grander point that terrorism is
indiscriminate, that it is growing, and that no place on earth is
Roth subscribes to traditional Jewish literature that frames good
people in great pain and bad people with unjust rewards - not that
he's suggesting that such philosophies begin to make sense of his
There is little for that. There are many books, he says, on the
death of your child, even some books on the murder of your child.
Yet there are no books about the death of your child because of who
she was and what she represented. Roth may well be a leading expert
on such grave avenues of research. Among his best friends are the
families of terrorism victims from Ireland and Spain's Basque
He sees he and and his wife as "canaries in the coalmine". They feel
their perspective is overlooked in the broader analyses of
For comparisons, Roth harks back to early-day road campaigns in
Melbourne. His message is aimed at those most at peril, but who are
also oblivious to the dangers.
He likens terrorism to the Nazis. It's not about winning. It's about
the urge to destroy. The challenge is to try to understand its
Easy answers, such as dispossession and poverty, are not always
present: Malki's suicide bomber, for example, left behind a
"We" are losing. Terrorists are winning. They are driven by a
diseased religious viewpoint.
"They will blow up their own children as long as they can exact a
price from the hated enemy," Roth says.
"They will send pregnant women into hospitals in order to blow them
up without any regard for what this means on a moral level of human
"There's a decline in the morality of the actors. And a very, very
substantial escalation in the destructiveness of the tools that are
available to people who think like that."
Still, Roth feels far from powerless. He gives his talks. He shares
his grief. And he lives his life: besides his six remaining
children, there are two grandchildren to coddle.
He also fights to have Ahlam Tamimi, the mass murderer who killed
his daughter, returned to prison.
"We don't expect to change the world," he says. "We are constantly
reinforced in our understanding of that.
"But there are things that passionate people outraged by this
injustice can do. And that's what we do."