Michael Bennett, and his wife, Linda, right, visit their daughter Marla… (Associated Press )
Reporting from San Diego — In the years since their daughter Marla was killed by a Hamas suicide bomber in Jerusalem, Michael and Linda Bennett have had somewhat differing reactions.
Linda Bennett has been back twice to Israel, to look at the memorials for her daughter and the other victims of the July 31, 2002, attack at Hebrew University and even to see the cafeteria where it took place. Not to go, she said, would be to surrender to terrorism.
Michael Bennett cannot bring himself to visit Israel because he will sense Marla's presence everywhere and his pain will only increase. Bennett, 68, feels occasional twinges that he should have done something, anything, to protect his younger daughter, maybe to keep her from going to Israel to study.
His wife, 63, a writer for the Jewish Journal, thinks that is illogical, that Marla, 24, an honors graduate of UC Berkeley, could not be dissuaded. She was too dedicated to continuing her studies and too much in love with Israel, and the possibility of helping heal the animosity between Jews and Arabs.
But on one key point, the Bennetts agreed: They had to do something to stop the bombings and to hold the U.S.-designated state sponsors of terrorists, in this case, the government of Iran, responsible.
"I just want it to stop," said Michael Bennett, sitting on the couch of the family home in San Diego. "I don't hate anybody, not Arabs, not Palestinians, not Muslims. But I want it to stop. If we can do anything, we've got to do it."
Represented by Thomas Fay, a Washington lawyer experienced in suing foreign governments on behalf of terrorist victims and their families, the Bennetts sued Iran and its Intelligence and Security Ministry.
Michael Bennett testified for 45 minutes about his daughter -- an experience that even now brings tears to his eyes.
In 2007, the couple won an uncontested judgment of nearly $13 million. The money, they said, would go to charitable causes in their daughter's name, and maybe make the Iranian government reluctant to support Hamas and similar groups.
But in their attempts to collect the court's judgment, the Bennetts are being opposed by the U.S. departments of State and Justice. Government lawyers prevailed on a Washington judge in March to block the payment; on Friday, the case was heard by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
At issue is the government's contention that the Bennetts cannot put a lien on the Iranian Embassy property in Washington -- even though the two countries have not had diplomatic relations since 1980.
To put a lien on the property, the government asserts, would complicate U.S.-Iranian relations and violate a Vienna Convention multinational agreement to protect each other's diplomatic property from being claimed through damage suits.
Fay argues that Congress settled the issue of former diplomatic property in 2002 by passing the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which makes it easier to sue foreign governments in U.S. courts and collect judgments from frozen or "blocked" assets.
He calls it outrageous that U.S. taxpayers' money is being used to shield Iran from being held accountable for the actions of a group whose violence against noncombatants has been endorsed, and even celebrated, by Tehran.
"I don't see how our government can pretend that somehow that is normal, or right," said Fay, who is joined in the Bennett case by lawyers from the Washington-based Center for Constitutional Litigation.
According to court documents submitted by the Department of Justice, the State Department has periodically leased out the Iranian Embassy property and used the proceeds to pay for upkeep, with the rest going into a frozen account. The U.S. deals through Algeria to get messages to Tehran about the property.
"The United States emphatically condemns the acts of terrorism that gave rise to this judgment, and has deep sympathy for the plaintiffs' suffering," wrote Department of Justice lawyers, nevertheless urging the appeals court to put the property off-limits.
Fay has won -- and collected -- judgments against the governments of Libya and Iran in other cases, although they did not involve the issue of diplomatic property. He also continues to press a case on behalf of survivors of the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, a blast that killed 299 U.S. and French military personnel.
In 2006, the Israelis arrested the alleged mastermind of the Hebrew University bombing, Ibrahim Hamed, a commander of the Hamas military wing.
In San Diego, the Bennetts watch the court case from afar. They adore their 8-month-old granddaughter. Their older daughter Lisa, her husband and their baby live just blocks away.
After the killing, Michael Bennett retired as a claims adjuster. The work just did not seem as important anymore, he said. Instead, he volunteers at the local Jewish preschool.
The Bennetts take comfort in the various memorials and remembrances with Marla's name attached. The Paul Newman charity is opening a camp in the Jordan River Valley for Jewish and Palestinian children, and one of the cabins is named for Marla.
Displayed near the fireplace in the family room are the flags of America, California and Israel that adorned Marla's casket. One of the family's proudest possessions is a snapshot of Marla and her parents taken at the Western Wall in Jerusalem six weeks before the bombing.
"I think about her every day," said her mother.
"I always tell people she was the best person I've ever known," said her father.