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Mar 6, 2008 – A West Orange man who lost his brother in a terrorist attack is praising the Bush administration for upholding his ability to sue the Palestinian Authority.
State Department and Justice Department officials both signaled last week that they would not stand in the way of plaintiffs like Tzedek Gilmore who hold Palestinian authorities responsible for attacks that claimed the lives of their loved ones.
In 2000, Palestinian gunmen shot and killed Tzedek’s brother, 25-year-old Esh Kodesh Gilmore, a security guard at a social security office in East Jerusalem. Eight years later, Tzedek is one of six plaintiffs seeking financial compensation as victims, or on behalf of victims, of terror attacks.
His move follows a $174 million victory by a Georgia woman, Leslie Knox, whose husband was killed by terrorists at a 2002 bar mitzva party in the Israeli town of Hadera.
Although the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization argued that such judgments would endanger Middle East peace talks, the State Department said Feb. 29 it would not block collection of the judgment in the Knox case.
In a related move, Justice Department lawyers submitted a letter to Judge Victor Marrero of the Federal District Court in Manhattan on Feb. 29, saying, “The United States supports just compensation for victims of terrorism from those responsible for their losses and has encouraged all parties to resolve these cases to their mutual benefit.”
That move emboldened Tzedek Gilmore, who told The Star-Ledger he was “happy the U.S. government was not supporting a source of evil.” Gilmore reacted to the news by describing himself as “having a big stupid smile on my face and being on the verge of tears.”
David Strachman, the Providence, RI, attorney handling the cases, told NJ Jewish News that even though “the PLO and PA are trying to vacate the judgments they have had entered against them after years of litigation, they have to comply with court orders. They are no different from anyone else.” He said Gilmore was not available for comment to NJJN.
A spokesman for the PLO office in Washington, Nabil Abu Znaid, told The New York Sun that such financial penalties could weaken the Palestinian Authority’s position against its rival in Gaza, Hamas.
“It’s also in the interest of the Israelis to see the Palestinian Authority survive,” he said.
And even in supporting “just compensation,” the Justice Department letter acknowledged that the United States “remains concerned about the potentially significant impact that these cases may have on the financial and political viability of the defendants.”
Strachman countered that the two Palestinian entities “have billions of dollars and investments in the United States. They have real estate in the United States. They have bank accounts. The funds we have attached are not being used to pay salaries or anything like that.”
A frequent critic of the Bush administration, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-Dist. 8), had nothing but praise for the State Department’s decision not to stand in the way of allowing terror victims’ families to collect damages.
Together with Rep. Albio Sires (D-Dist. 13) and Rep. James Langevin (D-RI), Pascrell signed a Feb. 22 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, expressing concern that “political efforts…might unduly influence and undermine verdicts” against the Palestinians.
“It will bring some solace, but not much,” Pascrell told NJJN. “When you lose a family member, nothing compensates for that. But to hit anybody who had anything to do with these crimes will take resources away from terrorist organizations. This is a pretty big deal. The State Department should be commended.”
Stephen Flatow, the West Orange attorney whose 20-year-old daughter Alisa died in a 1995 bus bombing in Gaza, was pleased at the turn of events in cases similar to the one he filed against the government of Iran.
He sued the Iranians under the 1996 Antiterrorism Act; five years later, he ultimately collected “ten cents on the dollar.”
Iran had funded the Islamic Jihad, the group held responsible for his daughter’s death.
“Like we are taught back in law school, you locate and identify assets,” said Flatow. “This is a favorable development toward victims in this type of litigation. Whether it will be ultimately successful, time will tell.”