MANHATTAN (CN) – Jurors wasted little time in finding the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization liable to the tune of $218.5 million, an amount that the court will triple to $655.5 million, for a spate of decade-old terror attacks known as the Second Intifada.
Ten families led by Mark Sokolow affected by six of the attacks that fell between 2002 and 2004 filed the case more than a decade ago, seeking to hold late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s groups responsible.
None of these families were present in court for the verdict Monday. Sokolow had survived a bombing in Jerusalem just months after the lawyer escaped the south tower of the World Trade Center during the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
After beginning deliberations Friday, the ethnically diverse jury unanimously found the PA and the PLO liable for each of the six attacks in Jerusalem at issue in the lawsuit.
The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for five of these attacks, which primarily struck Israeli roads and buses. Hamas carried out the July 31, 2002, attack on the Frank Sinatra cafeteria at Hebrew University.
In all of those, the jurors found the PA and PLO’s handiwork.
For attorney Kent Yalowitz of Arnold & Porter, Arafat’s fingerprints in the attack could be found in the PA staffers who became suicide bombers or convicted co-conspirators. The PA also encouraged attacks through so-called martyr payments to family members of convicted terrorists and incitement in police newspapers, he said.
After the verdict Monday, Yalowitz emphasized that the “PA and PLO policies of financial inducements and rewards for terrorism that are at the center of this case unfortunately continue today, more than a decade later.” Mark Rochon, who represented the PA for the Washington-based firm Chevalier & Miller, said that the PA employees who signed up for the attacks represented a fraction of the 100,000 in an organization that he said remained committed to the Oslo Accords.
The PA’s prisoner payments reflected the organization’s “social welfare state,” and served to discourage families from turning to radical groups like Hamas for support, he added.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, who helped file the case with Shurat HaDin, an Israeli legal organization, called the verdict important.
“This historic verdict against the defendants will not bring back these families’ loved ones nor heal the physical and psychological wounds inflicted upon them but it truly is an important measure of justice and closure for them after their long years of tragic suffering and pain,” Darshan-Leitner said in a statement. “We started out more than a decade ago with the intent of making the defendants pay for their terrorist crimes against innocent civilians and letting them know that there will eventually be a price to be paid for sending suicide bombers onto our buses and into our cafes.”
Breaking the PA’s silence on the case throughout the proceedings, the group’s deputy information minister Mahmoud Khalifa said Monday that the group would appeal.
“The decision is a tragic disservice to the millions of Palestinians who have invested in the democratic process and the rule of law in order to seek justice and redress their grievances, and to the international community which has invested so much in financial and political capital in a two-state solution in which the PLO and PNA are paramount,” Khalifa said in a statement.
At the start of trial, Majdi Khaldi, the diplomatic adviser of the PA’s current leader Mahmoud Abbas, called the allegations against the group “baseless.”
“The sympathy that everyone rightly feels for the victims of those attacks cannot change the fact that the PA provides a social safety net for the Palestinian people, not incentives for terrorism,” Khaldi wrote on Jan. 15.
Sokolow and his family were among 150 injured on Jan. 27, 2002, when a woman named Yafa Idris arrived at a busy downtown street in Jerusalem and blew herself in the middle of the day. There was one fatality, an 81-year-old man.
The Sokolows suffered “severe burns, shrapnel wounds, fractures and other serious injuries as a result of the explosion,” according to the complaint.
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