June 18, 2021

Jury finds PLO, Authority liable for terror acts

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Yalowitz and Darshan-Leitner, lawyers for families suing over attacks attributed to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and Hamas, speak to the media outside the Manhattan Federal Courthouse following a jury's decision in New YorkMark Hamblett, From New York Law Journal

The Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority were found liable Monday for six terror attacks in Jerusalem that killed and wounded Americans, as a jury awarded $218.5 million in damages—an amount that automatically tripled to $655.5 million under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The jury in Southern District Judge George Daniels’ courtroom didn’t take long to reach its verdict, as it discussed the evidence for part of Friday and Monday morning before holding both organizations liable for attacks committed by either their employees or their allies within Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade between 2002 and 2004.

The decision has set off a worldwide search for assets for the PLO and the Palestinian Authority to satisfy the judgment.

“I think the message is clear: if you kill or injure Americans in an act of terrorism, the long arm of American law will come back to you,” said plaintiffs’ lawyer Kent Yalowitz, a partner with Arnold & Porter, outside of the courthouse of 500 Pearl St. after the verdict.

Yalowitz represents 36 plaintiffs and four estates in Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization, 04-cv-00397—10 American families who were victims of a shooting attack and a bombing on the Jaffa Road in Jerusalem on Jan. 27, 2002, and bombings on the city’s King George Street in March 2002, French Hill in June 2002 and Hebrew University on July 2002. The sixth and final attack at issue was a bombing on a Jerusalem bus in January 2004. Yalowitz had sought some $350 million in damages.

Yalowitz, opposed by Mark Rochon, a partner with Miller & Chevalier, argued from the outset of the trial that began on Jan. 13 that the PLO and the Palestinian Authority provided money, support, and sometimes manpower to carry out the attacks. The attackers were backed by cabals of military and intelligence officials, who kept them on the payroll and, in the case of suicide bombers, paid “martyr” money to their families.

“This trial showed that acts of terrorism are often not the acts of a lone wolf, but of people who have the logistical support of organizations,” Yalowitz said.

In one case, five members of the family of Mark and Rena Sokolow were injured when Wafa Idris, a suicide bomber, attacked on the Jaffa Road in 2002. Yalowitz convinced the jury that Idris had conspired with a lieutenant in the Palestinian Authority’s military intelligence unit and that Idris’ family was given monthly martyr payments.

In the King George Street suicide bombing, the perpetrator was Palestinian Authority police officer Mohammed Hashaika, who was in a Palestinian jail when an intelligence operative wrote to then-PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat, implying that Haskaika would be released at Arafat’s pleasure.

“Five weeks later, Hashaika was out of jail with a bomb strapped to his body,” Yalowitz told the jury during opening statements (NYLJ, Jan. 14).

Joined outside of the courthouse after the verdict by plaintiffs’ lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Israel Law Center, Yalowitz said he would pursue every avenue to satisfy the judgment, including bank accounts, real estate and securities.

“To move money around the world, you have to, at some point, use the United States banking system,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority and the PLO had argued before trial that Daniels lacked jurisdiction and they made a last-minute, unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to stop the trial.

One argument made by the Palestinian Authority was that a liability verdict and damages would make governing even more problematic and threaten the organization with bankruptcy.

Darshan-Leitner said Monday that if the authority wanted to save money, “They should stop paying terrorists sitting in jail millions of dollars a month.” Yalowitz added, “They should take their terrorists off their payroll.”

Rochon declined comment after the verdict, but his clients issued a statement saying they were “deeply disappointed” in the verdict and would appeal.

“The charges made against us are baseless,” said Dr. Mahmoud Khalifa, deputy minister of Information of the Palestinian Authority. “Furthermore, the New York court ignored the legal precedent set time and again by other U.S. courts … that established that U.S. localities are not the proper jurisdiction for such a hearing.”

“This case is just the latest attempt by hardline anti-peace factions in Israel to use and abuse the U.S. legal system to advance their narrow political and ideological agenda: to block the two-state solution, advance the illegal settlements in our land, continue to attack and divert the PLO and the [PA’s] limited resources from needed services and programs for our people, and to distract the public from the everyday inequities and injustices Palestinians face, and which we try to address through a proper legal framework,” Khalifa said.

IMAGE: Plaintiffs attorneys Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and Kent Yalowitz on Monday

Reuters/Brendan McDermid

For more on this story go to: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202718658496/Jury-Finds-PLO-Authority-Liable-for-Terror-Acts#ixzz3SgM02geZ


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