U.S. Jury Finds Palestinian Organizations Liable in Terrorism Case

2-23-15 January 2002 Jerusalem bombing
Israeli policemen search the scene of a suicide bombing in central Jerusalem on January 27, 2002. Dozens of people were wounded when a female Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up outside a shoe store in the main shopping district. Reinhard Krause/Reuters

Updated | In what plaintiffs called a landmark ruling, a U.S. court has found the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization liable for damages suffered by 10 American families whose relatives were injured or killed in attacks in Israel.

The six shootings and bomb attacks in question took place between 2002 and 2004, during the second intifada, or uprising, and killed 33 and wounded more than 450. The lawsuit was filed in 2004 and was tried in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.  

“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,” Israel-based law office Shurat HaDin, which worked on the case, said in a statement after the verdict on Monday.

The plaintiffs argued that the two organizations supported the attacks—whether through direct involvement or assistance in the form of material support or training. They also allegedly paid those who carried out the attacks and continue to compensate perpetrators who were imprisoned, as well as the families of those who died.

Since the plaintiffs are all U.S. citizens, the case was tried in this country under the Antiterrorism Act signed into law by then president Bill Clinton in 1996, which gives American courts jurisdiction over acts of terrorism that harm U.S. citizens abroad.

“We are truly grateful that an American court has heard the evidence against the Palestinian Authority and the PLO and determined that suicide terrorism was indeed their official policy during the Second Intifada,” said the statement from Shurat HaDin, which was emailed to Newsweek. It continued:

We started out more than a decade ago with the intent of making the defendants pay for their terrorist crimes against innocent civilians and letting them know that there will eventually be a price to be paid for sending suicide bombers onto our buses and into our cafes. The defendants have already been boasting that they will appeal the decision and we will never collect on the judgment. We will not allow them to make a mockery of the US court process, however, and we continue to pursue them until it is paid in full. If the PA and PLO have the funds to pay the families of the suicide bombers each month, then they have the money to pay these victims of Palestinian terrorism.

In his closing arguments, Mark Rochon, attorney for the defense, said, “There is no concrete evidence that the senior leadership of the PA or the PLO were involved in planning or approving specific acts of violence.”

He continued, “It is not the right thing to hold the government liable for some people doing crazy and terrible things.” Rochon claimed the plaintiffs “exaggerated testimonies to make the Palestinian Authority look bad.”

Dr. Mahmoud Khalifa, deputy minister of information for the Palestinian National Authority, expressed the organization’s disappointment in a statement emailed to Newsweek after the decision came in. “The charges that were made against us are baseless,” he said. “We will appeal this decision.”

The statement continued:

This case is just the latest attempt by hardline anti-peace factions in Israel to use and abuse the U.S. legal system to advance their narrow political and ideological agenda: to block the two state solution, advance the illegal settlements in our land, continue to attack and divert the PLO and PNA's limited resources from needed services and programs for our people, and to distract the public from the everyday inequities and injustices Palestinians face, and which we try to address through a proper legal framework. The decision is a tragic disservice to the millions of Palestinians who have invested in the democratic process and the rule of law in order to seek justice and redress their grievances, and to the international community which has invested so much in financial and political capital in a two-state solution in which the PLO and PNA are paramount. 

According to Shurat HaDin, the Palestinian Authority and PLO have been found liable for $218.5 million, but the amount is to be tripled to $655.5 million in accordance with the Antiterrorism Act.

“We both express our admiration for the parents, children, wives, husbands and siblings of the victims who bravely traveled to New York to stand up to terror by testifying about their ordeals,” Kent Yalowitz of Arnold & Porter LLP’s New York office and Shurat HaDin Director Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said in a statement after the jury returned its verdict. “We hope as lawyers that we have, after years of difficult and emotional effort, secured for the families today a small measure of justice.

Correction: This article originally incorrectly stated that the ruling in this case was the first of its kind. Iran lost a similar case last year. This article originally incorrectly stated that a $600 million amount would be tripled. The defense has been found liable for $218.5 million, an amount set to be tripled to $655.5 million.