This page is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
Though Israelis are aware of the role the IDF and the security services play in the fight against terrorism, one Tel Aviv attorney wants to show how lawyers, too, can help secure the Jewish state.
Attorney Nitsana Darshan- Leitner, director of civil rights nonprofit organization Shurat HaDin (The Israel Law Center), will receive the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism, awarded annually to three Israelis deemed to best personify modern Zionism in Israel, for her work in taking Israel’s fight against terrorism to the courtroom.
Emergency medicine innovator Dr. Yitzhak Glick and Zvi Slonim, founder and leader of the Gush Emunim movement, will also receive the Moskowitz Prize.
The prizes will be awarded on Tuesday evening in a ceremony in the City of David.
Since Darshan-Leitner established Shurat HaDin in 2003, it has won more than $1 billion in judgments against terrorist groups and those who fund them – including state sponsors of terror Iran, Syria and North Korea.
The nonprofit has also pioneered the previously unheard of concept of suing terrorist organizations in civil court.
“When the second intifada started in late 2000, we thought we would try to help terror victims, and also make the perpetrators of terror attacks pay,” Darshan-Leitner told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Monday. “At that time, suing terror groups was a completely new field.”
When initial success in the courtroom opened the floodgates for requests from dozens of victims seeking to make their voices heard in court, Darshan-Leitner said she decided to set up a nonprofit group and make bankrupting terror a full-time career.
In its civil suits in the US, Shurat HaDin makes use of strict US anti-terror legislation, which allows American victims and their families to file civil suits against foreign state terror sponsors and terrorist organizations, including regarding attacks that did not take place on US soil.
Yet over and above helping victims, Shurat HaDin’s lawsuits have exposed the extent to which Iran supports Palestinian terrorism, and how it and other state sponsors of terror assist and enable their terrorist proxies, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, to carry out attacks against Israel.
Evidence presented in Shurat HaDin’s most recent victory, known as Wultz v. Iran and Syria, showed how those two regimes gave Islamic Jihad substantial logistical, financial and technical support to conduct a deadly suicide bombing at the Rosh Ha’ir shwarma restaurant in Tel Aviv.
Last week, the US District Court judge ruling on the case awarded $332 million in damages from Iran and Syria to the family of 16-year-old Daniel Wultz of Weston, Florida, who died from horrific injuries in that attack along with 10 others. Seventy civilians were wounded.
Another lawsuit, Kaplan v.Hezbollah, is pending in the US District Court in Washington, DC, and has done much to expose North Korea’s close relationship with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and how Pyongyang has helped Hezbollah create extensive underground military bunkers in south Lebanon.
Plaintiffs in that case are 30 American Israelis wounded by Hezbollah rockets during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Expert testimony showed how, before the war, North Korea sent missile components to Iran, where they were assembled and then shipped to Hezbollah’s leaders in southern Lebanon, specifically for use against Israeli civilian targets.
Kim Jung-il’s regime also helped the Lebanese terrorist group build an extensive network of underground military installations, bunkers, tunnels and storage facilities in south Lebanon, under the auspices of a front company, the Korea Mining Development Corporation, and gave Hezbollah leaders weapons and intelligence training to improve attacks against Israel.
Significantly, Kaplan v. Hezbollah names 10 “John Does” – anonymous North Korean agents who Shurat HaDin argues helped Hezbollah in its fight against Israel.
Even after the Second Lebanon War, North Korea has continued to supply Hezbollah with weapons via Tehran, including M-600 rockets that would allow the group to strike targets in central Israel, testimony showed.
Shurat HaDin previously sued North Korea for $378m. in US federal court in Puerto Rico for its involvement in the 1972 Lod Airport massacre, in which three members of the Japanese Red Army killed 26 people and wounded some 80 others.
Shurat HaDin’s lawsuits have also exposed the terror-funding fronts used by organizations such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, and revealed how these groups move illicit monies through international financial institutions.
Darshan-Leitner notes the organization has filed suits against several international banking institutions, who have allegedly provided services to terrorist groups.
“We can hurt terror groups and stop terror by preventing the flow of money reaching them,” she said.
In one lawsuit, Ammanbased Arab Bank is accused of aiding and abetting terrorism by providing banking services for organizations that paid suicide bombers’ families, including the Saudi Committee, which allegedly raised more than $100m. for Palestinian terrorist groups.
The Beirut-based Lebanese- Canadian Bank allegedly held money for Hezbollah.
However, Shurat HaDin has not only targeted Middle Eastern banks.
Darshan-Leitner said the organization has also filed cases against Swiss global financial services company UBS, which allegedly deliberately concealed transfers of hundreds of millions of dollars to Iran between 1996 and 2004.
When US federal investigators asked UBS why it failed to report its dollar transfers to Iran, the Swiss bank said the transactions were an “innocent mistake,” according to the lawsuit.
However, in the lawsuit, filed in the New York District Court on behalf of 43 people wounded in a series of terrorist attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, Shurat HaDin alleges that UBS facilitated the attacks by its dollar transfers to the terrorists groups’ sponsor, Iran.
A further lawsuit against Bank of China alleges that the bank aided and abetted Hamas and Islamic Jihad by providing them with dozens of wire transfers totaling several million dollars via a bank account in China.
The lawsuit, which names 84 plaintiffs including victims of Islamic Jihad and Hamas bombings and rocket attacks, contends Bank of China facilitated the terrorist attacks.
Allegedly, in 2006 and 2007, Hamas operatives received money in the account from Hamas’s headquarters in Syria and then transferred it to Gaza.
Most of the transfers, allegedly initiated by the two organizations’ leaderships including in Iran and Syria, were made to a single account in Guangzhou, China, belonging to Said al-Shurafa, who the plaintiffs claim is a senior operative and agent of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Shurafa is alleged to have then transferred the funds from his account to Islamic Jihad and Hamas coffers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, “for the purpose of planning, preparing for and executing terrorist attacks.”
Though Bank of China moved to have the lawsuit dismissed, in July the New York Supreme Court handed down what Darshan-Leitner said was a “monumental” ruling, holding that the case can go ahead in US court.
As a result of these and other lawsuits, Darshan-Leitner said international banks have closed accounts with alleged terror links and become more careful about vetting clients.
However, Darshan-Leitner said, getting a court judgement against terrorist groups and their state sponsors is not the final stage in the legal battle against them.
“When we get a judgement [for damages], we have to move to enforce it,” she said.
In the lawsuits against Iran, enforcing judgments has meant searching creative ways to attach Iranian funds in the US and asking courts to allow them to be used to pay courtawarded damages.
To collect $423.5m. in damages awarded from Iran to victims of a 1997 Hamas suicide bombing attack in Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall, lawyers targeted a house purchased by the late shah of Iran for his son in Lubbock, Texas.
Another possible source of Iranian funds, Darshan-Leitner said, is a collection of 2,500- year-old clay tablets from Persepolis in Iran. Though the tablets are held by the University of Chicago, the Islamic Republic claims ownership of them.
Though Iran has never answered a single lawsuit filed against it, the Islamic Republic did take notice of the request to sell the Persepolis Tablets to pay the suicide bombing victims, calling the move “indecent” and appointing a US lawyer.
Darshan-Leitner dubbed the lawsuits “fighting back” against terrorism, but added that Shurat HaDin also battles against anyone who seeks to harm Israel and Israelis.
“We’re also fighting back against campaigns of US campus anti-Semitism, we’re fighting back against BDS [Boycott, divestment and sanctions] campaigns, we’re fighting back against the flotillas,” she said, referring to legal warnings the organization sent to leading maritime insurance companies last summer, causing them to cancel their insurance of protest ships headed for the Gaza Strip.
“Really, we’re fighting back against the delegitimization of Israel,” she concluded.
Darshan-Leitner said she was “delighted” to receive the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism, which aims to honor those who put Zionism into action in Israeli society but who do not always receive public recognition.
“Receiving the prize will help boost the idea that private citizens can also make a difference in Israel’s fight against terror,” Darshan-Leitner said.
Former public security minister Brig.-Gen. (res.) Avigdor Kahalani, a member of the judging committee, said Darshan-Leitner had made an impression “with her dedication, day in and day out, to preserving the honor of Israel and to pressing the legal case against those who seek to harm it and its citizens.”
Kahalani praised Darshan- Leitner’s “tenacity and professionalism,” which he said had achieved results.