Arab Bank Head Says Israel Not Called 'Enemy'

     BROOKLYN (CN) - Arab Bank's former chairman of the board told a jury that he had no knowledge that his father, a Palestinian who preceded him as chairman, wrote a letter in the bank's 2003 annual report stating that "our brothers in Palestine" were suffering because of "violence and injustices of the occupying forces."
     "The bank is a commercial bank. It does not interfere in politics. We have always called for the establishment of peace between the Arab states and the state of Israel," Hamid Shoman said in a pre-recorded deposition from May 2010 that was played for jurors in Brooklyn Federal Court.
     Attorneys representing more than 300 individuals who sued the bank in that court in 2012 after being injured in suicide bombings in Gaza accuse the bank of providing material support to Hamas by facilitating transactions totaling $35 million to families of suicide bombers to carry out at least 24 attacks during the second intifada (uprising) from 2000 to 2004.
     The lawsuit is playing out in Brooklyn Federal Court as violence continues to erupt between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip.
     Plaintiffs have suggested that the bank's higher-ups supported Palestine and Hamas, and that their politics trickled down to employees at the bank. They also said during their opening arguments last week that the bank required its employees to make donations to Hamas through shell charities so that it could be given to families of suicide bombers.
     "I did not see this message and it was not discussed with me by my father," Hamid Shoman said in the taped deposition. "I have never heard the bank refer to Israel as its enemy."
     Shoman also said that the country of Jordan, where the bank is based in Amman, required employees from certain business sectors to donate money to "humanitarian efforts" related to the intifada.
     David Blackmore, who oversaw the bank's compliance and anti-financial crime efforts at the bank's London branch, said in his pre-taped deposition from December 2010 that the bank created and distributed "appalling" calendars in 2001 and 2002, the first of which was themed "Destroyed Villages of Palestine" and featured pictures of destroyed structures.
     The second calendar highlighted "selected events in history," including the dates of several fatal Zionist attacks in the area, the rise of Adolf Hitler in Nazi Germany, various anniversaries of Arab Bank openings around the world, and the moon landing.
     Blackmore said after receiving a half-dozen of the calendars in 2001, his office requested headquarters to send any more in the future. Blackmore also said his banks didn't distribute the calendars in the United Kingdom.
     "It was not appropriate for the London market," Blackmore said. "We said no" because we knew "it might cause more trouble than it's worth."
     "It's verging into politics," he added. "Our feelings were made known [to bank executives] and the matter was dropped."
     During opening arguments last week, Tab Turner, one of three lawyers representing the families of victims of suicide bombings, accused the bank of turning a "blind eye" by providing financial services to terrorists during the uprising, acting as "paymaster" for the Saudi Committee for the Support of Intifada Al Quds.
     That group paid families of suicide bombers $5,300, often in American cash, while families of prisoners got $2,655, Turner said. Those who were injured got $1,300, he said.
     The bank's attorney Shand Stephens said during opening arguments last week that the bank "couldn't possibly have known" who it was paying," adding: "Arab Bank did not choose who to pay.
     The case is said to be the first civil lawsuit accusing a financial institution of financing terrorism to take trial in the United States. It has survived several challenges and went to trial after two years of legal wrangling.
     The families pinned their lawsuit on the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, which makes it possible for victims of known terrorist groups to be compensated. Hamas was designated a terrorist organization in 1997.