After years of back and forth litigation and waiting, a US jury found on Monday that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) were responsible for a series of terror attacks in Israel that killed or wounded American citizens.
The attacks, which took place in the early 2000s as part of the Second Intifada, were found to be incited by PLO and PA leadership during a tumultuous time in Israel’s history. Thirty-three people were killed and more than 390 wounded.
The jury awarded the victims $218.5 million in damages. The case, which was tried under the US Anti-Terrorism Act, could allow for the amount to be tripled. The landmark trial lasted more than five weeks under US district judge George Daniels in New York. Eleven families served as plaintiffs in the case.
The historic case in Manhattan and a second in Brooklyn are the most prominent attempts by American victims of Palestinian terror to use the US court system as a means to seek damages. The total amount could reach into the billions of dollars.
In his closing arguments, Kent Yalowitz, the attorney representing the victims, said that the PA and PLO should be held accountable for providing material support for six bombings and shootings between 2002 and 2004.
While no amount of money could make up for the loss of life and trauma involved, “if the only thing you can give them is money, then money has to stand in as compensation for the unspeakable loss,” he said.
Jurors heard heartbreaking testimony of victims of the attacks and family members who lost loved ones. Rena Sokolov described how a family vacation to Israel in 2002 turned to tragedy.
Sokolov and her family were walking near a shoe store in Jerusalem when a bomb went off. She described that she felt she “was in a washing machine” and that she thought she would die from the amount of blood quickly flowing from her broken leg.
“I looked to my right and saw a severed head of a woman about three feet from me,” she said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman welcomed the verdict, saying it is “primarily a moral victory for Israel and victims of terror.”
“This decision should be wake-up call to the Palestinians themselves and those working for them to recognize that terrorism is an essential component of the PA,” Lieberman said. “The glorification and veneration of terrorism and terrorists among the Palestinians – which the PA is responsible for – is an affliction that must be eradicated through re-education.”
Palestinian Deputy Information Minister Mahmoud Khalida vowed to appeal what he called “baseless charges.” He said that the case was politically motivated by “anti-peace factions” in Israel who seek to block a two-state solution.
“We are confident that we will prevail, as we have faith in the US legal system and are certain about our common sense belief and our strong legal standing,” he said in a statement.
While it remains unclear how the PA and PLO will pay the damages, Israeli lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner from the Israel Law Center (Shurat Hadin) told reporters in New York that no stone will be left unturned to force the Palestinians to pay.
“Now the Palestinian Authority knows there is a price for sending suicide bombers to our malls, to our cafes and blowing our buses up, and we will pursue and will make sure that the PA will pay every dollar,” she stated.
“We’re going to take steps against their assets, they have assets in the United States, in Israel. We’re going to go after bank accounts and money that they are getting paid on a monthly basis in Israel, for instance.”
The PA is expected to appeal the verdict and protest that it does not have sufficient funds to pay.