NEW YORK — The Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority were the catalysts for a series of terrorist attacks in the early 2000s in Israel that killed or wounded several Americans, a U.S. jury found Monday at a high-stakes civil trial.
In finding the Palestinian authorities liable in the attacks, jurors awarded the victims $218.5 million in damages for the bloodshed. The U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act could allow for that to be tripled.
The case in Manhattan and another in Brooklyn have been viewed as the most notable attempts by American victims of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to use U.S. courts to seek damages that could reach into the billions of dollars.
The Palestinian Authority, which had argued that the attackers acted on their own, said it would appeal.
“The charges that were made against us are baseless,” Deputy Minister of Information Dr. Mahmoud Khalifa said in a statement.
None of the victims was in the courtroom Monday for the verdict, but their lawyers called it a victory in the fight against terrorism.
“It’s about accountability. It’s about justice,” attorney Kent Yalowitz said. He and an attorney with the Israel Law Center, which helped with the case, vowed to collect the damages by pursuing Palestinian Authority and PLO bank accounts, securities accounts, real estate and other property that may be in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere.
“Now, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority know there is a price” for supporting terrorism, Israel Law Center attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said.
Yalowitz had urged the Manhattan jury to order the PLO and Palestinian Authority to pay $350 million for providing material support to terrorists involved in six bombings and shootings from 2002 to 2004.
No amount could make up for the human toll, he said. “But if the only thing you can give them is money, then money has to stand in as compensation for the unspeakable loss,” he added.
Defence attorney Mark Rochon had argued there was no proof Palestinian authorities sanctioned the attacks as alleged in a 2004 lawsuit brought by 10 American families, even though members of their security forces were convicted in Israeli courts on charges they were involved.
“What they did, they did for their own reasons … not the Palestinian Authority’s,” he said in federal court in Manhattan.
The suit against the PLO and Palestinian Authority and the other against the Jordan-based Arab Bank had languished for years as the defendants challenged the American courts’ jurisdiction. Recent rulings found that they should go forward under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a more than 2-decade-old law that allows victims of U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations to seek compensation for pain and suffering, loss of earnings and other hardship.
The plaintiffs also relied on internal records showing the Palestinian Authority continued to pay the salaries of employees who were put behind bars in terror cases and paid benefits to families of suicide bombers and gunmen who died committing the attacks.