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Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Palestinian Authority’s Bad Day in Court

The government of the West Bank, which receives hundreds of millions in U.S. foreign aid, is found liable for financing terrorism in Israel.


For the better part of a decade, Congress has annually allocated $400 million to the Palestinian Authority in foreign aid, ostensibly to build schools, renovate hospitals and repair roads. On Monday in a U.S. federal court, a Manhattan jury found that this same Palestinian government financed and supported six terrorist acts that killed dozens of people in 2002-04 during the Second Intifada against Israel.

The Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member, Hanan Ashrawi
The verdict held the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization liable for $218.5 million in damages. Under the 1992 Anti-Terrorism Act, the sum automatically triples to $655.5 million, roughly 15% of the Palestinian Authority’s annual budget. The Palestinian groups said they will appeal.

For the 10 American families who were injured or lost relatives more than a decade ago in the terrorist attacks, the ruling is overdue justice. Mark Sokolow, the lead plaintiff, had narrowly escaped the south tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11 and was in Jerusalem four months later. He and his family were outside a shoe store when a suicide bomb detonated. Mr. Sokolow’s wife, Rena, recalled in testimony hearing “a whoosh, and I started spinning around like I was in a washing machine.” She looked at her leg and saw “the bone sticking out.” Nearby, Ms. Sokolow said, “I saw a severed head of a woman.”

Assistant Books Editor Jessica Kasmer-Jacobs on a landmark federal court ruling that awarded damages to American families of Palestinian terror victims. Photo credit: Getty Images.
The families in the lawsuit were represented by Kent Yalowitz of Arnold & Porter, and Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Shurat Ha’Din, an Israeli law firm. Representing the Palestinians was Mark Rochon of Miller & Chevalier, who told the jury that the attacks were carried out by agents “acting on their own for their own reasons” and not by the government he was defending. Those agents were “crazy, wrong, contemptible,” said Mr. Rochon, “but not my clients.”

Yet as the six-week trial revealed, the Palestinian Authority provided backing for terrorists—and continues to do so today. Palestinian military and intelligence officials, Mr. Yalowitz calculated, spend $50 million a year to keep terrorists on the payroll while they are held in Israeli jails. The Palestinian government also awards “martyr payments” to the families of suicide bombers.

Monday’s verdict comes as something of a vindication for the family of Leon Klinghoffer, the wheelchair-bound American who in 1985 was murdered by Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists aboard the hijacked Italian cruise liner Achille Lauro. The Klinghoffer family filed a lawsuit, but U.S. federal courts had no jurisdiction over acts of terrorism outside the country. The case was dropped, and the PLO settled with the Klinghoffers out of court for an undisclosed sum in 1997.

The 1992 Anti-Terrorism Act provides federal courts “with an explicit grant of jurisdiction over international terrorism” and a private right of action for “any national of the United States injured in his or her person, property, or business by reason of an act of international terrorism.” The act also has the virtue of allowing American citizens to assign blame for supporting terrorism, even if politicians are reluctant to do so. A jury in New York has spoken about the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Congress might want to consider that fact as it prepares next year’s foreign-aid budget.