David Guttenfelder / AP

US court orders Palestinians to pay Israeli attack victims more than $218M

American victims of political violence in Jerusalem sue PLO and PA in US court under Anti-Terrorism Act and win big

A U.S. jury on Monday ordered the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to pay more than $218 million for providing material support used in shootings and bombings in the Jerusalem area more than a decade ago.

The verdict in Manhattan federal court added a new dimension to the long-running Middle East conflict, as American victims sought to use U.S. courts to seek damages under the Anti-Terrorism Act. 

Jurors found in favor of 10 American families suing over six attacks attributed to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas. Victims and their families had requested more than $350 million over shootings and bombings from 2002 to 2004 that killed 33 people and injured over 450. 

Under the Anti-Terrorism Act, the plaintiffs’ award could be tripled.

"Now the PLO and the PA know there is a price for supporting terrorism," said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in an interview after the verdict.

The attacks took place during the Second Intifada, or uprising, in which some Palestinians took up arms to end Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestinian lands. Israel responded with increased military incursions into occupied territories, which heightened tensions and ultimately resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis.  

The defendants will appeal the decision, an official said in a Monday statement.

"The Palestinian Liberation Organization [sic] and the Palestinian National Authority are deeply disappointed by the adverse decision issued today in a New York court," said Mahmoud Khalifa, PA deputy minister of information. "The charges that were made against us are baseless ... we will appeal this decision."

The trial began six weeks ago and was the second in less than a year in which a U.S. jury found defendants liable under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which lets U.S. citizens injured by acts of international terrorism pursue damages in federal court.

Last September, a federal jury in Brooklyn found Arab Bank Plc. liable for providing material support to Hamas.

Because the U.S. does not recognize Palestine as a state, the PLO and PA do not have immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which prevents lawsuits against foreign countries in American courts. Alleged crimes committed against American citizens by the Israeli military, including the death of U.S. activist Rachel Corrie, are therefore not admissible in U.S. courts.

It is not the first case tried in the U.S. targeting Palestine over damages as a result of terrorism. Last September, a federal jury in Brooklyn found Arab Bank Plc. liable for providing material support to Hamas.

In the PLO case, lawyers for the plaintiffs claimed that late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat and his agents routinely arranged for attackers to be paid, kept attackers on Palestinian payrolls and made payments to families of attackers who died.

Lawyers for the PLO and the PA said those entities condemned the attacks, and blamed them on rogue low-level employees.

Khalifa slammed the case as being politically motivated.

"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 (PA)'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," Khalifa said, adding that the PLO and PA would continue to combat extremism and violence.

The Palestinian Authority wishes to form a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Since 2012, Palestine has been recognized by the United Nations as an "observer state." Palestinians are expected soon to join the International Criminal Court, which launched an inquiry that could lead to war crime charges against Israel.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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