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October 16, 2010 – Two American survivors of the 1985 Arab terrorist attack on the Achille Lauro cruise liner have finally won the right to sue the Palestine Liberation Organization over their ordeal.
The two women on whose behalf the lawsuit was filed were held at gunpoint by the terrorists on the ship's outdoor deck throughout a three-day ordeal.
During the attack, which made international headlines, Arabs who had hijacked the ship announced they would execute one hostage and then follow up with one every hour unless Israel met the PLO's demands to release jailed Palestinian prisoners.
A retired New York businessman, 69-year-old wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer — who was celebrating his 36th wedding anniversary with his wife, Marilyn — was shot to death and his body and wheelchair flung into the sea.
(One of the prisoners the hijackers were so desperate to free was Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, who later was released in exchange for the bodies of IDF reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who were kidnapped and murdered at the start of the 2006 Second Lebanon War.)
The lawsuit, which seeks compensation from the PLO for damages inflicted on the two women in the course of the three-day attack, was only first heard by Israel's Supreme Court in 2005.
“Then to make matters worse the justices took another five years to finally hand down their ruling upholding our arguments and allowing the case to go forward,” noted attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel Law Center, who has spent the past ten years fighting for justice for the victims of the terror attack.
Attorneys for the PLO argued that the case, originally brought before the District Court in 2000 — 15 years after the attack — was invalid, since the seven-year statute of limitations had run out long before.
In response, Darshan-Leitner argued that it was not possible for the plaintiffs to bring the case in any reasonable jurisdiction any earlier due to the PLO's status as a terrorist entity, which prevented the entity from being available for prosecution until after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994.
Darshan-Leitner argued before the court that the seven-year statute of limitations was therefore only valid from 1994, when the PLO had formally returned to Ramallah and was thus available for prosecution.
“Although justice delayed frequently becomes justice denied, we are not going to allow the PLO to escape its liability for the 1985 hijacking,” Darshan-Leitner said in a statement released Friday.
“It's important that no act of Palestinian terror ever be forgotten and the terror victims know they have a means, even many years later, of making the terrorists pay.”