US jury orders Palestinian govt to pay $218 mn for terror attacks

Reuters/Ammar Awad
A federal jury has ruled that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority supported terror attacks which killed dozens of people in Israel a decade ago, and must now pay $218.5 million in damages.

The damages were announced after two days of deliberation by the jury, which decided the defendants helped facilitate deadly shootings and bombings attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas in Israel in the early 2000s – attacks that killed 33 people and wounded more than 400 others. The plaintiffs were 10 American families affected by six specific attacks, including the 2002 bombing of a Hebrew University cafeteria and a 2004 suicide bombing on a public bus in Jerusalem.

The message is clear,” Kent Yalowitz, the Arnold & Porter LLP partner who represented the plaintiffs, told The Wall Street Journal. “If you kill or injure Americans, the long arm of the American law will come after you.”

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Notably, the damages are automatically tripled to $655.5 million under the 1992 US Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows US victims of international terrorism to seek remedy in federal courts.

Both defendants said they would appeal, though. The Palestinian Authority and PLO said they had no involvement in the attacks and shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of a handful of extremist individuals.

“This is not a verdict based on legal grounds,” Ghassan Shakaa, chairman of the PLO’s Department of International Affairs, said to the Journal. “It is a politically biased verdict based on [America’s] bias and siding towards Israel.”

Even if the verdict is upheld, it is unclear how the Palestinian Authority and PLO would even meet the payments. The Palestinian Authority is teetering on the edge of economic crisis since Israel froze the transfer of at least $200 million in tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Authority. On Monday, Israel said it cut off electricity to parts of the West Bank because the Palestinian Authority has fallen behind on its payments to Israel.

“It’s going to be difficult but not impossible to collect the monetary judgment,”Jens David Ohlin, a professor at Cornell Law School who specializes in international law, told the Journal. “The best hope the plaintiffs have in this case is to either find assets in the US or convince the Israelis to help them collect the judgment.”

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Just five months ago, a federal jury in Brooklyn found Arab Bank PLC liable for supporting terrorist acts in and around Israel. It was the first time a bank was held liable in a civil lawsuit under the anti-terrorism statute. Legal experts say the verdicts could lead to more lawsuits against organizations, including global banks that facilitate or fund terrorist acts.

Palestine has been a United Nations "observer state" since 2012. The Authority is also expected to join the International Criminal Court, which is involved in an inquiry that resulted in war crime charges against Israel.