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June 3, 2012 – North Korea still poses “a constant threat to Israel,” 40 years after a Pyongyang-sponsored terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, the Israeli ambassador has said.
And an Israeli lawyers’ organization is continuing to sue terrorists in a bid to prevent such atrocities in future.
The roots of the Lod Airport massacre, which took the lives of 26 people and injured 72 others in Tel Aviv on May 30, 1972, trace back to the North Korean regime.
“This attack was the first of its kind, but unfortunately the fight against terrorism has become a daily routine in many parts of the world,” Ambassador Tuvia Israeli said Wednesday, the 40th anniversary of the attack.
“Israel has no diplomatic ties with North Korea and in many ways it is a constant threat to Israel,” he added. “Beyond support for terrorist organizations, North Korea violates the internationally accepted rules of proliferation. North Korea is an active partner in the establishment of nuclear capability for military purposes in Iran and Syria.”
Many of the victims of the three Japanese Red Army members who carried out the attack on Lod Airport, now called Ben Gurion Airport, were Puerto Rican pilgrims. Using machine guns and grenades they’d stowed in their hold luggage, the three terrorists carried out the attack on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
North Korea’s backing of the attack was substantiated in a legal judgment against Pyongyang in 2010. A U.S. federal court in Puerto Rico found that the North Korean regime had trained, funded and armed the terrorists, and ordered Pyongyang to pay $378 million in damages to two of the victims’ families.
North Korea does not recognize the state of Israel, regarding it an “imperialist satellite,” and has previously funded various Palestinian paramilitary groups. North Korea did so to get at the U.S., Israel’s principal ally, according to Nitsana Darshan-Leitner who represented the families in the 2010 case.
She is the director of Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, an NGO which sues terrorist groups and their sponsors in a bid to strip them of their assets and end their activities. The organization has won judgments totaling $1 billion, frozen assets worth $600 million and collected about $120 million in damages.
“What happens usually in these cases is that we go after assets that belong to the other country,” Darshan-Leitner said. “We collect by enforcing the judgment against bank accounts that belong to the country, in this case North Korea.”
The NGO is also currently suing Pyongyang on behalf of the family of Kim Dong-shik, a pastor kidnapped by the regime in 2000 who is believed to have starved to death in a North Korean prison camp.
Although no money has yet been collected from the 2010 judgment, Darshan-Leitner is confident that her organization will ultimately be able to locate and seize North Korean assets in other countries.
“This was how we were able to collect money against Iran,” she said. Iran never came and paid their judgment but we were able to find houses that belonged to Iran, back accounts that belonged Iran, bank accounts that belonged to their national companies, and this is how we were able to retrieve.”
She said that U.S. law, unlike that in most other countries, allows for cases against third countries involved in criminality. U.S. Congress legislated in 1996 for an exception to the sovereign immunity law on the grounds that countries that sponsor terrorism are not acting like sovereign states, and therefore should not enjoy sovereign immunity.
Zeev Sarig was deputy director of Lod Airport at the time of the attack. He remembers the destruction of what he calls Israeli airport security’s “September 11.”
Blood, chaos and broken glass
“It was complete chaos of course,” he said. “Bodies all over, blood, broken glass, open suitcases, chaos like an utter massacre.”
For Sarig, Shurat HaDin’s work is an important part of the fight for justice for survivors and victims’ families.
“For me, it was really a mission that those who murdered, or sent murderers who killed innocent people, should pay for the rest of their lives. That should be a sign to all of those who send criminals, murderers, terrorists, whatever you call them, to kill innocent people, at the end of the day they will pay.”
Israeli composer Shimrit Or, whose father died in the attack, also witnessed the scene firsthand with her brother.
“There was a huge roar, a sound that I had never heard before and in my mind I tired to realize what this sound could be and I thought maybe a ceiling was falling in, something very enormous. Then there was a minute of silence and they started shooting.
“My brother me pulled me and dropped me on the floor and covered me with himself. And the shooting and the shouting were endless. In real time it was almost five minutes, but it was unbelievable how long it seemed at the moment.”
While she thought that justice should be sought for the crime, Or said she has never been contacted by Shurat HaDin, and only heard of the 2010 judgment through the media. She feels more needs to be done to locate and connect the many survivors of the attack.
The Israeli ambassador said that Seoul and Tel Aviv should connect on security to defend against such threats.
“Despite the great distance between Israel and the Republic of Korea, a strategic security dimension has many interests in common, and all focused on bringing change in North Korea, first of all for the sake of citizens there, but also to increase the stability and security on the Korean Peninsula and in fact throughout the world,” Israeli said.