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February 11, 2015 – NEW YORK
Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, one of the most well-known Palestinian leaders globally, testified late Tuesday on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in the first ever US terror trial against the PA.
Her testimony in the New York federal court, while highly anticipated due to her senior status – there had even been a last minute attempt by the plaintiffs to block her from testifying and a special eleventh-hour deposition of her by the plaintiffs – was also unexpectedly brief.
Ashrawi appeared confident and composed when she first took the stand, detailing her close relationships with senior officials on all sides of the Arab-Israeli peace process. She noted that she met with Yassar Arafat “hundreds of times.” Defense lawyers also used her testimony to describe the destruction she witnessed during the Second Intifada. “Rubble.” Ashrawi said, remembering the police station across the street from her house that was leveled by rocket attacks. “I saw the police training headquarters and the prison totally destroyed.”
Ashrawi’s descriptions of her destroyed neighborhood served to illuminate the defense’s point that Palestinian security forces were severely hampered in their ability to do their jobs. “Around my area there were no streets, there were tanks and there was nothing. So it was very difficult for anybody to move,” Ashrawi said “There were no security forces around, actually, at that time.”
Asked about her and the PA’s opposition to terrorism, she said, “I knew and lots of my friends knew that this was counterproductive, that it really damaged our cause and didn’t serve the cause of the PLO, nor the cause of freedom and justice. So we tried to prevent violence from all sides.”
But Ashrawi grew visibly uneasy after plaintiff’s counsel Kent Yalowitz of Arnold & Porter began rising from his chair to object to nearly every question, with Judge George B. Daniels sustaining many of those objections. On one occasion, the senior PLO official turned to the judge to ask if she could answer a question although no objection was raised. Yalowitz even elicited a few apologies from the witness as he repeatedly leapt from his seat to object to her testimony.
Plaintiffs lawyers had opposed allowing Ashrawi, a last-second addition by the defense, to testify. But the court noted that she could help explain the payments made to prisoners—a subject she never actually addressed. Plaintiffs had argued she had no specific knowledge of the events at issue in the trial. After a general testimony that largely chronicled her work in the Oslo Accords and other touchstone moments in the Arab-Israeli peace process, the plaintiffs lawyers hadn’t changed their minds.
“I’m not sure why she came,” plaintiffs lawyer Kent Yalowitz said. “To tell us that Arafat won the Nobel Prize?” Earlier on Tuesday, Maj.-Gen. Majid Faraj, the current head of the PA’s General Intelligence Service—which was characterized for the jury as “the Palestinian CIA”—had picked up where he left off on Monday, sparring with plaintiff’s counsel during his cross examination, frequently descending into exacting language that descended into a semantic skirmish that plaintiffs characterized as evasive. Faraj’s testimony centered on what he knew about the relationship between the PLO, the PA, Fatah, and Hamas.
The case revolves around several attacks in Jerusalem during the Second Intifada: a January 22, 2002, assault-rifle attack; January 27, March 21 and June 19, 2002, and January 29, 2004, suicide bomb attacks; and an extra large-scale bombing attack on July 31, 2002.
The families allege, in the words of US District Judge George B. Daniels, that the PLO carried out terrorist acts to “terrorize, intimidate, and coerce the civilian population of Israel into acquiescing to defendants’ political goals and demands, and to influence the policy of the United States and Israeli governments in favor of accepting defendants’ political goals and demands.”
The defense denies the allegations and says that any PA employees involved in terrorism acted on their own.
After the jury was excused, Judge Daniels appeared eager avoid further repetition on the points the court had heard several times already. “I don’t think the jury needs to hear any more about the Oslo Accords,” Judge Daniels said, drawing laughter from the gallery. It’s also clear, the judge continued, that the defense wants the jury to believe there wasn’t a Palestinian police station left standing during the Second Intifada. “The jury’s pretty smart,” the judge said. “They can figure that out.”
The defense told the court they plan to close their case by next Tuesday, February 17.