The ruling was obtained by Shurat Hadin on behalf of eight victims’ families.
The Palestinian Authority is liable for civil damages for a series of terror attacks carried out mostly during the Second Intifada, the Jerusalem District Court has ruled.
With liability decided against the PA, the court case moves to the next stage where the plaintiffs will need to prove their damages, which could add up to as much as NIS 1 billion. Shurat Hadin has been pursuing a judgment for years on behalf of eight victims’ families and relating to 17 complaints.
The 17 complaints mostly come from the 2000-2002 period of the Second Intifada, including the infamous Ramallah lynch in 2000. One claim also dated back to 1996 when there was an attack at Joseph’s Tomb.
Some of the attacks involve Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but Judge Moshe Drori still held the PA liable based on official PA statements taking credit for all of the terror attacks during the Second Intifada. Drori added that the PA had also sometimes provided logistical or material support to other groups in carrying out the terror attacks.
More broadly, the court held the PA liable not only on the basis of such logistical and material direct support to terrorists, but also on the basis of continued financial support of terrorist prisoners and their families. Going even beyond financial support, the court noted that the PA regularly dedicates street names and other landmarks to terrorists.
Despite these rulings, the court denied arguments against the PA that said it had direct responsibility for certain specific attacks due to general statements of incitement.
Though the ruling was handed down on Sunday, the court spokesperson’s office announced the decision for the first time on Monday.
The issue of the PA making “martyrs” payments to terrorists has led to significant public and legal fighting between Israel and the US on one hand, and the PA on the other. Israel and the US have portrayed the payments as support for terror, and both countries recently passed laws to penalize the PA monetarily for continuing the payments.
In response, the PA has been rejecting US and Israeli financial support. Some in the Israeli defense establishment believe that the PA itself could collapse in the near future due to a lack of funds.
Groups in favor of penalizing the PA say that it is grandstanding, and that it is always able to find funds for wealthy top officials and high-end portions of the West Bank that the PA controls.
Commenting on Monday’s decision, Shurat Hadin President Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said that the court’s “historic” decision showed that PA leader Yasser Arafat had tried to use war and murder, via the Second Intifada, to obtain concessions from Israel that he had not succeeded in getting through the Oslo negotiations.
With the dramatic decision handed down, the standard question arises on whether there will be any way to collect on any future potential judgment.
In January, the same court placed a temporary lien on a plot of land in Jerusalem owned by Arafat, after Shurat Hadin sought the land as collateral for the claims against the PA. The land in question is mainly situated on the Mount of Olives Cemetery, overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem.
Darshan-Leitner had told the court that if they won the lawsuit, it would be difficult to collect the compensation from the Arafat estate, and as a result, she requested a lien on the property.
“Yasser Arafat was the grandfather of modern terrorism, responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women and children,” said Darshan-Leitner at the time. “This move is one step closer toward justice for the victims and their families. We will not allow a situation in which the Arafat estate can own land in the heart of Jerusalem, while avoiding paying damages to his victims.”
Drori himself issued Monday’s decision as one of his last upon his retirement, meaning that evidence regarding damages will be held by a different Jerusalem District Court judge.