Payback

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A federal jury in New York found the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) liable in a civil lawsuit over terrorist attacks perpetrated in Israel during the second intifada more than a decade ago.

The jury at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan found the PLO and the PA liable to compensate the plaintiffs, American victims of Palestinian terror, $218.5 million in damages. The award will likely be tripled to $655.5 million because of the unique terrorism law under which the case was brought.


Israeli bomb experts search bus number 32 in Jerusalem's Pat junction near the neighborhood of Gilo June 18, 2002 after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up, killing 17 people and wounding many others. (GIL COHEN MAGEN/REUTERS/Newscom)
Israeli bomb experts search bus number 32 in Jerusalem’s Pat junction near the neighborhood of Gilo June 18, 2002 after a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up, killing 17 people and wounding many others. (GIL COHEN MAGEN/REUTERS/Newscom)

The lawsuit before Judge George Daniels was filed in 2004 under the Antiterrorism Act of 1996 that gives American courts jurisdiction to try acts of terror that harmed Americans while they were abroad. The suit covers six specific terror attacks that killed 33 and wounded more than 450 civilians between 2002 and 2004.

After more than a decade of carrying this around with them, victims said they finally have some peace.

Jamie Sokolow, 25, was just 12 years old when a Jerusalem terrorist attack left her bloody, with shrapnel damaging her right eye.

“I am thankful that, after 13 years since our attack and 10 years since the filing of the case, we and the other plaintiffs have finally received justice in a U.S. court,” Sokolow said. “I am also grateful to our lawyers who worked so hard on our behalf.”

“This historic verdict against the defendants will not bring back these families’ loved ones nor heal the physical and psychological wounds inflicted upon them, but it truly is an important measure of justice and closure for them after their long years of tragic suffering and pain,” Nitsana Darshan Leitner, the director of Israel-based Shurat HaDin, which worked on the case, said in a response to the verdict.

Speaking for the prosecution’s legal team, Kent A. Yalowitz said, “We hope as lawyers that we have, after years of difficult and emotional effort,
secured for the families today a small measure of justice.”

Though this is a win for the victims and their families, many speculate that the defendants will appeal the verdict. Grant Rumley, a research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies specializing in Palestinian politics, noted that this verdict provides “one victory” in what could be a “long, drawn-out legal battle.”

The PLO and the PA’s defense lawyers argued that they did not violate the Antiterrorism Act and that they, as governing bodies, should not be held accountable for the violent actions of criminals who acted on their own accord or under the influence of more radical militia groups such as Hamas. Mark J. Rochon, one of the defense lawyers, told the jury on Feb. 19 that he did not want “the bad guys, the killers, the people who did this, to get away while the Palestinian Authority or the PLO pay for something they did not do.”

This verdict, coupled with last September’s Brooklyn federal court ruling that found Arab Bank Plc. liable for having provided material support to Hamas, could have tense implications for Arab-Israeli relations.

“There are going to be three ways this verdict impacts the Palestinians,” Rumley said.

From the standpoint of the Palestinian Authority, this blow could cause even more difficulties to their already dire financial state. “The PA is strapped for cash,” he said, alluding to the fiscal crisis brought on, in part, by Israel’s withholding of tax revenues designated for the Palestinian Authority.

Leitner offered a different view.

“If the PA and PLO have the funds to pay the families of the suicide bombers each month,” he said, referencing advertisements used in the case offering financial compensation tothe families of suicide bombers, “then they have the money to pay these victims of Palestinian terrorism.”

The verdict may put Palestinian moves to join the International Criminal Court, which had been criticized for opening Israel up to further investigations of potential war crimes in Gaza, in jeopardy.

“The PA is now responsible for actions for even some of the lowest foot soldiers,” Rumley said, pointing to what he said was a new legal precedent in the Manhattan ruling. “Are they [now] responsible for Hamas firing rockets from Gaza?”

Rachel Delia Benaim is a freelance writer based in New York.

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