PA, PLO ordered to pay $655-m to victims

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US jury orders PLO & PA to caugh up for damages to US victims of 6 terror attacks in Israel as prescribed under the US Anti-Terrorism Act. Israel was not party in lawsuit which was brought by American families, but Israeli PM Netanyahu said after the award that “instead of drawing the requisite lesson, the PA is advancing steps that endanger regional stability.” The Jury also heard how the PA paid salaries to terrorists. READ THIS INCREDIBLE STORY...
by ANT KATZ with JRA and New York Times | Feb 25, 2015

A New York jury on Monday ordered the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to pay more than $218-m in damages to US victims of six terror attacks in Israel. The amount is expected to be tripled to $655-m (R7.6-bn at today’s exchange rates), as prescribed under the US Anti-Terrorism Act.

According to an article in the NEW YORK TIMES, “Round 2 in the judicial wars between Israel and the PLO went to Israel, and Israel isn’t about to let the Palestinians forget it,” the verdict followed a six-week civil trial in Manhattan federal court that included testimony from survivors of suicide bombings in Jerusalem.

Israel was not a party to the lawsuit, which was brought by ten American families suing over Jerusalem-area attacks that took place from 2002 to 2004.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear in his statement after the jury award that he saw the decision as a new phase in the legal manoeuvring launched by the PA at the end of last year, when it allowed the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction to assess whether Israel has committed war crimes.

bibi - dec 14

RIGHT: Bibi Netanyahu

“Instead of drawing the requisite lesson, the Palestinian Authority is advancing steps that endanger regional stability, such as the hypocritical application to the International Criminal Court even as it is allied with the Hamas terrorist organisation,” said Netanyahu.

“We expect the responsible elements in the international community to continue to punish those who support terrorism just as the US federal court has done and to back the countries that are fighting terrorism.”

The attacks have been attributed to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas.

“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,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in a statement following the verdict.


Hard-line anti-peace Israelis behind it   -PA

The PLO and the PA said they will appeal the verdict and accused Israeli supporters of manipulating the judicial system to political ends - the same way Netanyahu and others have characterised Palestinian moves at the ICC.

Mahmoud Khalifa, the PA’s deputy information minister, told the Financial Times that the verdict was “just the latest attempt by hard-line anti-peace factions in Israel to use and abuse the US legal system to advance their narrow political and ideological agenda.”

PLO PA to pay2

LEFT: WINNER – One of the lawyers acting for the families who successfully fought the case against the PA and PLO, Kent Yalovitz

In an interview before the decision, Darshan-Leitner said the focus, should her clients win, would be on garnering payment in the United States and Israel. She noted that the PLO settled in earlier instances once plaintiffs put liens on its assets.

“We put liens on their assets and started enforcing the judgments against bank accounts and other portfolios they had in the US, tax money Israel collected on behalf of the PA,” she said. “The main goal is to compensate the terror victims, to make the PA pay for what they did and get money to the people whose lives they devastated.”

The plaintiffs argued that PLO chairman Yasser Arafat had arranged for attackers and their survivors to be compensated.


“Money is oxygen for terrorism”

But lawyers for the PLO and PA said they had condemned terror attacks and that any payments made to terrorists were done by low-level employees acting independently.

“Money is oxygen for terrorism,” Kent Yalowitz, a lawyer for the families, said in a closing argument, according to The New York Times. Yalowitz added that the US’ anti-terrorism law “hits those who send terrorists where it hurts them most: in the wallet”.

The US Anti-Terrorism Act was also used last September by a Brooklyn jury which found the Arab Bank liable for supporting Hamas terrorism. Damages in that case will be decided at a second trial.

The verdict ended a decade-long legal battle to hold the Palestinian organizations responsible for the terrorist acts, an effort that encompassed fights over jurisdiction, merit and even practicality: History has shown that it is difficult for victims of international terrorism to bring their civil cases to trial, let alone to recover damages.

While the decision on Monday was a huge victory for the dozens of plaintiffs, it could also serve to strengthen Israel’s claim that the supposedly more moderate Palestinian forces were directly linked to terrorism.

The Palestinian groups said in a statement that they intended to appeal the verdict, but did not address their willingness or capacity to pay. In at least two previous cases, in which judges entered default judgments against them for more than $100 million, the groups reached confidential settlements, court records show.


PLO PA to pay

RIGHT: LOSER –Defence lawyer Mark Rochon leaving the Federal District Court in New York this week

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said that if the Palestinian groups refused to pay, they were confident that they would be able to seize the groups’ assets, both in the United States and abroad.

The verdict in the a civil trial after the jury heard emotional testimony from survivors of suicide bombings and other attacks in Jerusalem, in which a total of 33 people were killed and more than 450 were injured.

The case was brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows American citizens who are victims of international terrorism to sue in the United States courts. The same law was used to find Arab Bank liable for supporting terrorism by Hamas last September. Damages in that case, filed by about 300 victims of 24 terrorist attacks, are to be decided in a second trial, which has not yet been held.


Repeated attempts to dismiss

In the PLO and PA case, Judge George B. Daniels rejected repeated defense arguments to dismiss the case in the years before trial. The plaintiffs included 10 families, comprising about three dozen members, eight of whom were physically injured in the attacks while the others were left with deep psychological scars, testimony showed.

The plaintiffs also included the estates of four victims who had been killed in the attacks, which occurred on the street and at a crowded bus stop, inside a bus, and in a cafeteria on the campus of Hebrew University.

 “It was a terrible thing to see,” one plaintiff, Robert Coulter Sr, 78, testified as he described watching a news report about the cafeteria bombing and realizing his 36-year-old daughter, a New Yorker on a business trip, was one of the victims.

 “They brought a body bag out on the TV station, right on it, and went right down to where she was laying and I knew it was a girl, had blond hair,” Coulter recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, that’s Janis.’.”

The defense had argued that their clients had nothing to do with the attacks. A defence lawyer, Mark Rochon, told the jury on Thursday that he did not want “the bad guys, the killers, the people who did this to get away while the PA or PLO pay for something they did not do.”

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO’s executive committee who testified for the defence, told the jury, “We tried to prevent violence from all sides.”


PA paid salaries to terrorists

But citing testimony, payroll records and other documents, the plaintiffs showed that many of those involved in the planning and carrying out of the attacks had been employees of the PA, and that the authority had paid salaries to terrorists imprisoned in Israel and had made martyr payments to the families of suicide bombers.

The PA and PLO said they were “deeply disappointed” in the verdict, calling the lawsuit’s charges “baseless.”

 “We will appeal this decision,” Dr. Mahmoud Khalifa, the PA’s deputy minister of information said. “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 called the decision “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.”


“Back countries fighting terrorism”   -BIBI

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said they could seek orders to have the defendants’ bank accounts frozen and to require them to turn over real estate and other property. The judgments could also be taken to other countries, where the defendants do business or have assets, Mr. Yalowitz, one of the lawyers, said. “Once you have a judgment against the PA and PLO, if they don’t pay, (they) are like any other deadbeat debtor,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said he expected the “international community to continue to punish those who support terrorism, just as the U.S. federal court has done, and to back the countries that are fighting terrorism.”

“Today as well,” Netanyahu added, “we remember the families that lost their loved ones; our heart is with them and there is no justice that can console them.”

The PA, led by Mahmoud Abbas, had serious financial troubles even before Israel began withholding more than $100-m a month in tax revenue it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf, as punishment for the Palestinians’ move in December to join the ICC.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said the plaintiffs would also go after those taxes. “Our goal is to get this judgment paid,” she said. “We did this before. We are going to do it this time again.”


“Did someone kill my father?”

The trial opened last month with testimony from a man who ran a flower shop in Jerusalem, who recalled the “utter destruction” after the bombing of the bus in a 2004 attack that killed 11 people.

Karen Goldberg, a Brooklyn native, testified about how the death of her husband, Scotty Goldberg, who was on the bus, had caused their children to suffer from depression and anger issues, and to have trouble in school.

Their youngest of seven children, who was then under two years old, did not speak until he was three, she said. One day, Mrs Goldberg said, he wandered into the kitchen and shocked her when he uttered his first words: “Did someone kill my father?”

“He wanted to know, ‘Where is the bad man?’,” she added.

The lead plaintiff, lawyer Mark Sokolow, had escaped from the south tower of the World Trade Centre on Septtember 11, 2001. The following January he and his family were in Israel to visit their eldest daughter.

He, his wife, Rena, and their two other daughters were outside a shoe store on Jaffa Road when a suicide bomber blew herself up, killing one Israeli and wounding more than 100 other people.

Mrs Sokolow testified that she found herself on the ground with her leg bleeding profusely and a bone sticking out. She said she looked to the right and saw a woman’s severed head lying about three feet away.

The youngest daughter, Jamie, who suffered a severe eye injury, told the jury, “My whole face felt like it was on fire.” She added, “I kept saying to myself, ‘No, I’m 12 years old, and I’m from New York, and I’m going to stay alive.’ ”


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