Palestinian Authority Defendant in First Ever Trial in US, Linked to 6 Terrorist Attacks

Plaintiff’s lead Attorney: “More than a decade after these 6 horrific terrorist attacks left Americans dead or wounded. Today marks the day that survivors brought the perpetrators to face justice.”



With the first trial ever in US history against the Palestinian Authority for terrorism charges kicking off on Tuesday, plaintiffs’ lawyer Kent Yalowitz said, “More than a decade after these six horrific terrorist attacks left Americans dead or wounded, today marks the day that survivors brought the perpetrators to face justice.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas greets released Palestinian prisoners at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Dec. 31, 2013 – Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images

Yalowitz, of Arnold & Porter, said that he would bring “compelling evidence of how these brutal acts were carried out by officers and employees of the PA” before the federal New York court with links “all the way up to then-PA President and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, to terrorist crimes committed against American citizens.”

The PA’s lawyers, Mark Rochon and Laura Ferguson of Miller & Chevalier had no comment to the media.

The case revolves around a January 22, 2002 assault rifle attack, January 27, March 21 and June 19, 2002, January 29, 2004 suicide bomb attacks and an extra large-scale bombing attack on July 31, 2002 – all in Jerusalem.

The families allege, in the words of US District Judge George B. Daniels, that the PLO carried out terror 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.”

Up to dozens of survivors of the attacks may testify in a trial expected to be emotionally explosive, lasting up to three months,

The case also comes at a bad time for the defense, with public opinion extra sensitive to charges of terrorism with the brutal Paris killings and the Boston Marathon bomber trial both unfolding in recent days.

Many also view the case as an early fulfillment of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s threat to go after the PA for terrorism in courts around the world in retaliation for the PA moving against Israelis at the International Criminal Court.

Observers were caught by surprise as most of the morning and into the afternoon was spent fighting over last minute evidentiary issues and completing jury selection which had started last week.

The courtroom was packed on this cold New York morning, with jackets and scarves piled high on a coat rack as lawyers bickered with the judge over last minute objections, focusing particularly on what the plaintiffs’ attorneys could use as demonstratives during witness testimony.

Yalowitz received the brunt of Judge George B. Daniels’ scoldings.

After Yalowitz asked for further clarification on a point, Daniels said, “Whatever you think you have that they haven’t seen, you better show it to them”

He countered that we “wouldn’t have to waste the court’s time” if the PA’s lawyers would talk with him and accused the other side of “bamboozling the court” in their objections to some of the plaintiffs’ photos and power point shots.

After bickering at length over one point, plaintiffs’ lawyers said they would meet with their opposite numbers to clear up some of the issues.

Judge Daniels took the opportunity to warn them: “You solve it or I’ll solve it in 30 seconds.”

The only respite from the quibbling came during the concluding round of jury selection as the nearly fifty potential jurors were led into the courtroom, filling the jury box, the majority of the galley, which the judge had cleared of family members, lawyers, and journalists who packed up against the walls and windows looking out onto the skyscrapers of downtown Manhattan.

18 jurors were selected for questioning by the judge, including an array of mostly native New Yorkers, such as a watchmaker, several nurses and healthcare workers, and a few with degrees in criminal justice.

After lawyers selected those they wanted dismissed, the judge dismissed 6 jurors, some of whom had visited Israel in the past.

The jury appeared to be a mix of mostly black and white men and women with a couple of Hispanics.

Most previous cases did not get to trial for a variety of reasons, and even this one – which could carry a billion-dollar price tag – could have been blocked until last week when the US Supreme Court gave it the green light, rejecting an interim appeal by the PA to intervene and block the trial.

Nitzana Darshan-Leitner – Photo Courtesy: Shurat Hadin

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Shurat Hadin, which has shepherded the case since its inception, said, “For the first time, the Palestinian Authority will have to defend its policy of terrorism and murder before a jury of 12 ordinary New York residents,” it continued. “We are all very determined that the evidence of the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility for the Hebrew University cafeteria bombing and other intifada terrorist attacks targeting civilians will soon be presented to the jury.”

According to the plaintiffs, several of the PA operatives have already been criminally convicted in Israeli courts for involvement in the terrorist incidents, some with multiple convictions.

They say every attack involved at least one PA employee and that the PA kept the workers on its payroll – in some cases promoting and even lionizing them, including after their convictions.

On the basis of the PA’s alleged connection to the approximately 30 perpetrators, the plaintiffs argue that the PA has vicarious liability for the actions of its employees.

On September 23, a Brooklyn jury handed down the first major terrorism-financing verdict following a full trial against a major financial institution – Arab Bank.

The PA case is of similar stature to the Arab Bank case and could be the first of its kind against the Palestinian Authority, which usually refuses to engage and instead has default judgments entered against it or settles quietly out of court.

The case has included the rare event of the PA producing its internal personnel files, including “martyrs” files and intelligence dossiers.

Because of that development, some court documents contain extended sections that are blacked out because the identities of many of the PA personnel remain under seal, available only to the court and not to the general public. Such protections are rare in civil cases.

The plaintiffs say evidence against the PA and its employees includes convictions and confessions implicating the employees; internal PA records showing payments to and promotions of the convicted terrorists while they were in jail; and statements in PA publications reflecting incitement and approval of the attacks (which the plaintiffs argue reveal the PA’s state of mind).

In one instance, the plaintiffs say the PA provided Hamas with support, personnel and bomb-making equipment in retaliation for Israel’s targeted killing of a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader.

One challenge the plaintiffs will have to overcome is using Israeli military court convictions as direct evidence, since such convictions occurred under a non-US legal body.

However, the plaintiffs believe they will succeed in doing so, since, while there have been no precedent-setting cases exactly equivalent to theirs, US courts have recognized Israeli military court convictions in immigration-deportation cases, and they were used in the recent Arab Bank case.


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