A Manhattan court was asked Tuesday to consider whether the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) are legally responsible for terror carried out in their names in Israel between 2001 and 2004, after last-minute appeals from the two Palestinian bodies to dismiss the case were denied.
The plaintiffs, victims and family members of victims in seven shooting attacks and suicide bombings are seeking damages of up to $3 billion.
The case was first brought in 2004, under the 1991 Anti-Terrorism Act, which stipulates, “any national of the United States, injured by an act of international terrorism, his estate, heirs, or survivors, may sue in U.S. district court,” according to the Congressional record.
The PLO and PA moved to have the case dismissed on the grounds that the US did not have jurisdiction over them, but the claim was rejected. A 2008 ruling also rejected the contention that these attacks were acts of war, not terror, according to the Israel Law Center (Shurat HaDin).
According to the families of the victims, the PLO and PA financed and orchestrated the attacks which killed or maimed their relatives.
“The evidence will show that killing civilians was standard operating procedure for the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority,” attorney Kent Yalowitz, representing the victims, said in his opening arguments. “Terrorism tore these families apart — not just physically, but in many cases, emotionally,” he added.
To prove the link between the organizations and the terrorists, the prosecution said it would present bank records which show the PA and PLO “embraced these crimes” by continuing to pay security officials who organized the attacks, even after they were convicted of murder.
The defense claims the organizations knew nothing about the attacks and that they were the actions of individuals “acting on their own angry, crazy reasons.” Defense attorney Mark Rochon acknowledged the attacks as “horrific”, saying, “We are not defending these acts.” However, he asked the jury not to let sentiment cloud their judgment on whether the PLO and PA are ultimately responsible.
“These were tragic and sad and senseless events, and I am not going to ask you to turn your hearts away and ignore that sadness,” Rochon’s stated. “But I am going to tell you that even when the emotions run high, even when people are sharing these sad and heartbreaking events, remember, take that deep breath and remember we are not here to decide whether these are bad or sad things.”
This case is one of three brought to court in New York under the same Anti-Terrorism Act. Another, against Jordanian-based Arab Bank, found the financial institution legally responsible for knowingly transferring funds to a recognized terror entity. A May 18 court date has been set for a bellwether trial to determine damages in that case. The third case, from 2005, against the United Kingdom-based National Westminster Bank, for its dealings with Interpal, a Palestinian relief fund designated as a terror group in 2003, was revived in September.
The current case, unlike the Arab Bank case, will seek to determine liability and damages at the same time.