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February 23, 2015 – NEW YORK – A federal jury has found the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization liable for supporting six terrorist attacks in Israel over a decade ago and ordered the groups to pay $218.5 million to the victims’ families.
The decision on Monday came on the second day of jury deliberations and after five weeks of testimony in the first civil trial against the Palestinian political apparatus in the U.S.
The trial stems from a lawsuit filed in 2004 under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows U.S. victims of international terrorism to seek remedy in federal court. Under the law, the damages ordered by a jury automatically will be tripled because the claims involved an act of terrorism.
A 12-member jury in Manhattan federal court decided the Palestinian Authority and the PLO should be held liable for a wave of deadly shootings and bombings in Israel in the early 2000s, which killed 33 people and wounded over 400 others. The plaintiffs were 10 U.S. families affected by six specific attacks, including a 2002 bombing of a Hebrew University cafeteria and a 2004 suicide bombing on a public bus in Jerusalem.
Monday’s verdict comes a few months after a federal jury in Brooklyn found Arab Bank PLC liable for supporting terrorist acts in and around Israel, the first time a bank was held liable in a civil lawsuit under the antiterrorism statute. The recent verdicts could pave the way for more lawsuits against organizations, including global banks, that allegedly facilitate or fund terrorist acts.
The politically charged trial was emotional at times, especially during the testimony from the victims and their families when they vividly described the mental and physical injuries they sustained.
In closing statements on Thursday, the plaintiffs’ attorney asked the jury to order around $350 million in damages. On Monday, jurors made calculations for each individual who was seeking claims, amounting to a total of $218.5 million.
“Money is oxygen for terrorism,” said Kent Yalowitz, the Arnold & Porter LLP partner representing the plaintiffs. “Take away their money by making them pay their fair share of what they did.”
The Palestinian Authority and PLO have denied involvement in the attacks and said they shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of a handful of extremist individuals.
Palestinian leaders tried for years to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that U.S. courts had no jurisdiction over them, but U.S. District Judge George Daniels allowed the trial to proceed.
The verdict suggests the jurors were convinced the actions of the Palestinian Authority and PLO more likely than not helped cause the injuries of the plaintiffs.
Mark Rochon, the Miller & Chevalier partner representing the defendants, said throughout the trial that the groups shouldn’t have to “pay for something they did not do,” arguing an organization shouldn’t be held liable for the crimes of rogue employees. He said the attackers were lower-level employees who weren’t acting as official representatives of the organizations they worked for.
But Mr. Yalowitz said the groups should be held liable because they supported the terrorist organizations that carried out the attacks in the early 2000s, Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The plaintiffs claimed that at least one Palestinian Authority employee was involved with each attack.
Mr. Yalowitz argued that Palestinian leaders endorsed the terrorists by paying and promoting the individuals who committed the attacks, even after some of them were convicted of murder.
“The question is how you deal with people who do bad things,” Mr. Yalowitz told jurors on Thursday. “Do you fire them or do you keep them on the payroll and promote them and give them thousands of dollars in reward money?”
Mr. Rochon said the fact that Palestinian authorities paid and promoted prisoners wasn’t the reason they committed acts of terror.
“There is no conclusive evidence that the senior leaderships of the PA or PLO were involved in planning or approving specific acts of violence,” Mr. Rochon told jurors in his closing statements on Thursday.