US Orders PA, PLO to Pay $650 Million for Decade-Old Attacks

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Published Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A US jury on Monday found the Palestinian Authority (PA) liable for six attacks in Jerusalem that killed and injured Americans, awarding victims and their families more than $218 million in damages.

Under the US “anti-terrorism” act, the damages are automatically tripled, meaning that the PA and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are liable to pay more than $650 million.

Israeli authorities welcomed the decision as a "moral victory," but the Palestinians accused the lawsuit of being politically motivated and vowed to appeal.

The jury reached its verdict following two half-days of deliberations, ending a landmark trial under US district judge George Daniels in New York that lasted more than five weeks.

The six attacks killed 33 people and wounded more than 390 others between January 2002 and January 2004.

The bombings and shootings were carried out by Palestinian resistance movement Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades — blacklisted as terrorist organizations in the United States — during the second Palestinian uprising against the Zionist state.

The 12-member jury decided unanimously that the PA and PLO were liable on 25 separate counts connected to the six attacks.

They apportioned individual damages ranging from $1 million to $25 million to Americans who were injured or lost loved ones.

The total falls well short of the $1 billion sought by lawyers for 11 plaintiff families when the trial opened in mid-January.

'Moral victory' for Israel

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman welcomed the decision as a "moral victory for the state of Israel and for victims of terrorism."

"Terrorism is an integral part of the very structure of the Palestinian Authority," Lieberman said.

US attorney for the plaintiffs, Kent Yalowitz, welcomed the verdict.

"This is a great day for our country, it's a great day for those who fight terror, we're so proud of our families who stood up," he told reporters.

It remains unclear if and how the PA can pay, as it is in serious financial difficulty because Israel has frozen its tax revenues.

Mahmoud Khalifa, Palestinian Authority deputy information minister, expressed dismay at the verdict and vowed to appeal what he called "baseless" charges.

He said the case was politically motivated by "anti-peace factions" in Israel to block a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We are confident that we will prevail, as we have faith in the US legal system and are certain about our common sense belief and our strong legal standing," he said in a statement.

The roots of the Israel-Palestine conflict date back to 1917, when the British government, in the now-infamous Balfour Declaration, called for "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people."

In 1948, with the end of the mandate, a new state – Israel – was declared inside historical Palestine.

In 1988, Palestinian leaders led by Arafat declared the existence of a State of Palestine inside the 1967 borders and the State's belief "in the settlement of international and regional disputes by peaceful means in accordance with the charter and resolutions of the United Nations."

Heralded as a "historic compromise," the move implied that Palestinians would agree to accept only 22 percent, believed to have become 17 percent after massive Israeli settlement building, of historic Palestine in exchange for peace with Israel.

Numerous Palestinian factions, including Hamas, as well as pro-Palestine advocates support a one-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians would be treated equally, arguing that the creation of a Palestinian state beside Israel would not be sustainable and that it would mean recognizing a state of Israel on territories seized forcefully by Zionists before 1967.

They also believe that the two-state solution, which is the only option considered by international actors, won't solve existing discrimination, nor erase economic and military tensions.

'Exaggerated' testimony

The plaintiffs argued that the PA and PLO should be held responsible for providing material support to the groups responsible for the attacks, blacklisted as a foreign terrorist organizations in the United States.

The court also heard that members of the two groups were on the payroll of the two organizations.

Israeli lawyer Nitsana Darshan-Leitner told reporters in New York that she would leave no stone unturned in forcing the Palestinians to pay.

"We're going to take steps against their assets, they have assets in the United States, in Israel. We're going to go after bank accounts and money that they are getting paid on a monthly basis in Israel, for instance."

Defense attorneys refused to comment after the verdict.

Lawyers for the PA contended during the trial that the leadership should not be held responsible for "crazy and terrible" attacks carried out by people who acted independently.

"There is no conclusive evidence that the senior leadership of the PA or PLO were involved in planning or approving specific acts of violence," lawyer Mark Rochon argued in court last week.

He said the plaintiffs "exaggerated" testimony to make the Palestinian Authority "look bad" based in part on Israeli intelligence.

The six attacks took place against Hebrew University, in Jaffa Road, King George Street, against the number 19 bus and in French Hills, an illegal Zionist settlement in east Jerusalem.

The trial adds a new dimension to the decades-long Zionist occupation of Palestine and tensions between the Palestinian people and Israel.

Violent practices by Israeli Occupation Forces and illegal settlers against Palestinians are endemic and often abetted by the authorities.

More than 500,000 Israeli settlers live in settlements across the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem, in contravention of international law.

In 2014, Israeli forces detained 1,266 Palestinian children below the age of 15 in the occupied West Bank and annexed Jerusalem.

According to the PLO, more than 10,000 Palestinian minors in the occupied West Bank and annexed Jerusalem have been held by the Israeli army for varying periods since 2000.

Since September 2000, following the Second Intifada, at least 9,100 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis, including 2,053 Palestinian children, the equivalent of one Palestinian child being killed every three days for the past 14 years.

The verdict came two weeks after the United Nations approved the Palestinian Authority to formally join the International Criminal Court (ICC) on April 1. Although the US claims that the protection of human rights is one of its cornerstones, it slammed the PA’s ICC membership, rejecting the Palestinians’ right to hold Israel accountable for large-scale massacres.

As an ICC member, the PA can open probes into Israeli crimes and rights violations during the Israeli summer assault on Gaza and the period leading up to it.

For 51 days in August, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip by air, land and sea with the stated aim of ending rocket fire from the coastal enclave.

More than 2,310 Gazans, 70 percent of them civilians, were killed, including 505 children, and 10,626 were injured by unrelenting Israeli attacks on the besieged strip.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu had vowed to push lawsuits in several countries against the PLO in retaliation of the ICC bid.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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