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July 18, 2010 – Seven of the plaintiffs listed in the $1.2 billion lawsuit filed against al-Jazeera in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan are Haim Kaplan, his wife Rivkah and their five children, who are all minors.
The plaintiffs, whose family members were killed or who were themselves injured by rockets fired at Israel by Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, allege that al-Jazeera intentionally provided real-time coverage of the locations of missile strikes inside Israel in violation of Israeli security regulations, thereby enabling the Shiite group to aim its missiles more accurately.
Kaplan’s attorney, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, considers the lawsuit part of the global war on terror, while Kaplan views it as a “good deed” on his part.”I’m one of 90 plaintiffs,” says the lively 36-year-old Kaplan, who is a member of Chabad.
The lawsuit is one of five filed by the group, which has managed to recover more than $70 million from banks and other bodies suspected of aiding terror..
Safed, where I met Kaplan, is a religious city, where it appears everyone is awaiting the messiah’s arrival.
In June 2006, many of the city’s residents fled southward to escape the missiles that rained on Israel’s northern communities. “We ran from shelter to shelter as the ground shook beneath us from another Katyusha rocket landing,” recounts Kaplan.
His American parents were sent to Safed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe 37 years ago. During the Yom Kippur War, which broke out shortly before their arrival, Kaplan’s father traveled from one IDF position to the next with supplies as part of his work for Chabad.
Kaplan met his wife Rivkah during a visit to the US. The couple has seven children.
Four years ago this week, Kaplan was visiting Rosh Hanikra with a group of 100 Chabad children from all over the world. The group was instructed to return to Safed as tensions along Israel’s northern border escalated.
“The following day there were some (Katyusha) landings in Safed’s Givat Shoshana neighborhood (the Kaplan family’s place of residence at the time), and we began receiving frightened phone calls from the parents,” he says. “Just as I was contemplating where to transfer the 100 children, my wife and five kids called to tell me a rocket had landed near our house and that all the glass had been shattered.
“I told her to hide, and took the 100 children to Kfar Sitrin, south of Haifa. When I came home I realized that we had experienced a miracle. Everything was shattered, shrapnel penetrated the walls, but my wife and five children were unharmed. We thought the (attacks) would pass after a day or two, because Safed is not a strategic target,” Kaplan recalls.
“Between July 12 and August 14 Hezbollah fired thousands of rockets at civilians in northern Israel – they particularly targeted civilian facilities,” he says.
‘I don’t watch television at all’
According to the lawsuit, Hezbollah’s rockets killed 43 Israelis.
Attorney Darshan-Leitner, who founded Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center in Tel Aviv, says the organization has been tracking the money trails of groups and countries such as Iran, Syria and North Korea.
“The Twin Towers attack encouraged attorneys to go after terrorists and their funding sources,” she says.
Who are you currently representing in lawsuits filed with courts in the US?
“The family of the IDF reservists who were lynched in Ramallah, the family of the restaurateurs from Shenkin Street who were murdered in Tulkarem, relatives of the seven people who were killed in the terror attack in Jerusalem’s French Hill neighborhood, the 86 victims of rocket attacks on Sderot and many others. In the Sderot case, the lawsuit is against Egypt and the Bank of China in the US, where a Hamas member who transfers money to his brother in Gaza has an account.
“In the past we have sued Swiss bank UBS for transferring cash to Iran in violation of American law. We also sued North Korea, which dug tunnels used to transport missiles.”
Darshan-Leitner says her organization is assisted by American and Israeli intelligence agencies, but laughs when asked whether Shurat HaDin is an offshoot of the CIA. “No. And we are not an extension of the Mossad either. But intelligence agencies realized they can make use of civilians in the fight against terror. We get satisfaction from seeing the terror victims get justice. We hit terror through the court system,” she says.
What about the victims on the other side? The residents of Beirut can sue in New York and demands compensation for the loss of life or property in a bombing.
“No. Israel has immunity in New York. The residents of Beirut can turn to the High Court of Justice in Israel. We represent many Palestinians who sue the State of Israel.”
Kaplan, who is listed as a signatory in five different lawsuits, recalls how after his house was nearly hit he immediately drove to the local property tax office to pick up appraisal forms. The office sustained a direct hit, and on the way home a rocket landed near his car. Kaplan, who suffered shrapnel wounds all over his body, was driven by a family to the Ziv Medical Center in Safed, where shards of glass were removed from his skin and eyes.
“The appraiser did not believe I got out of that car alive,” he says.
So how is it that a Shaliach Mitzvah (emissary dispatched to do a mitzvah) files a lawsuit against al-Jazeera?
“We all want to make the world a better place, so Shurat HaDin found a group of victims I belong to.”
Do you watch al-Jazeera?
“I don’t watch television at all.”
Do you know how much money you’ll receive if the lawsuit is successful?
A day after the rocket attack near his home, Kaplan sent his family to Jerusalem. “It was a catastrophe here (in Safed). The municipality did not function, and some people fled. It was chaotic.“I am not doing this for money. This is about fighting terrorism. But every major lawsuit brings me many new friends,” Kaplan says in jest. “Any money I receive will go to my community.”
“That war has not ended. (South Lebanon) is filled with Hezbollah gunmen – and rockets and tunnels,” he says, “But still, we are closer to salvation than ever before.”