Twice in the 1970s, Mrs. Alon returned to the United States, determined to uncover the truth; twice, her daughters said, she was stonewalled by Israeli officials — many of them family friends, one of them future Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — and returned home brokenhearted.
The message was consistent: Devora, there is nothing we can tell you. Let it go. Move on with your life.
Mrs. Alon died from cancer in 1995. Her daughters refused to move on. In 2003, they met with former Israeli intelligence chief Ephraim Halevy. Nothing. They also made a formal request to Israel’s ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs for documents related to the murder; in response, they received a 1½-page memo that briefly summarized the FBI’s investigation, asserted that the Israeli government had no standing in the matter and advised the Alon daughters to appeal to the American government on their own.
Deeply dissatisfied, Ms. Alon-Margalit and Ms. Alon-Rosenschein petitioned the High Court of Israel, demanding that the state open all of its records regarding the case and also petition the United States on their behalf.
In 2005, the court ruled in their favor. But the resulting document dump — thousands of pages, many of them redacted — left them with no suspects, no motive and more questions than answers.
“We were pretty much where we started,” Ms. Alon-Rosenschein said.
A cold case heats up
In 2006, Mr. Burton received a tip: The Montgomery County detective who had canvassed the crime scene told him that Israeli Gen. Mordechai Gur had come to the Alon home on the night of the murder and claimed that Alon was an intelligence agent.
Meanwhile, a 2007 Associated Press investigation by reporters Adam Goldman and Randy Herschaft revealed that in 1977 the FBI had investigated a Central Intelligence Agency report that Black September had been responsible for the crime, an operation carried out by a two-man hit team that had entered the United States through Canada, travelling as students on either Lebanese or Cypriot passports.
Following the article’s publication, imprisoned terrorist Carlos the Jackal claimed in a letter that he knew the names of the Black September members involved and that the plan was called “Operation Alon.”
Partnering with the original FBI agent and the local cold-case detective who worked Alon’s murder, Mr. Burton resumed digging, reaching out to contacts in American intelligence, the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. He also linked up with the Alon daughters, the three of them exchanging information and moral support via phone calls, emails and Skype.
Palestinian sources told Mr. Burton that Alon was a Black September target and that his assassination was ordered by now-deceased terrorist mastermind Abu Iyyad, whom Mr. Burton describes as “the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed” of the group.
Mr. Burton also asserts that Mr. Alon was involved with Israeli intelligence — in part because his daughters remember a mysterious machine in their home that may have been a clandestine communication device, in part because Mr. Burton uncovered information indicating that Alon attempted to cultivate a mole within Black September, meeting at least once with Khalid Al-Jawary, a terrorist who was convicted in the failed 1973 New York bomb plot.
“Before Joe was murdered, we had Israel’s version of FBI agents killed in Europe in a very similar fashion, killed by double agents,” Mr. Burton said. “There appears to have been a very good counterintelligence effort by Black September to identify who was meeting with Palestinian informants. We had Joe meeting with Palestinian subversives in New York. It’s not beyond a reasonable doubt that Joe possibly even knew his killer.”View Entire Story
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Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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