WASHINGTON (CN) – The D.C. Circuit on Tuesday reinstated a lawsuit from a group of Palestinians who claim a collection of wealthy Americans, including billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson, as well as banks and nonprofits have conspired to force non-Jews from the West Bank.
The case began in 2016, when 18 Palestinians and the council of a Palestinian village filed a 200-page complaint in Washington, D.C., federal court, claiming a group of seven wealthy Americans poured millions into building up Israeli communities in the West Bank known as settlements.
The United Nations has condemned the practice of building the settlements, with the Security Council in 2016 calling it a “flagrant violation under international law.” Israel disputes this charge, and proponents of the practice cite historical and national security reasons for building up a presence in the area at the center of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The complaint claimed the settlements used this money, which went to the settlements through the nonprofits and banks, to hire security firms that in turn trained militias who killed Palestinians and took their property. In addition, the complaint says several construction firms and other companies destroyed Palestinian property and built settlements in their place.
The Palestinians and Palestinian American who brought the suit accused the wealthy Americans, banks, nonprofits and construction companies of conspiracy and of supporting genocide and war crimes. They also claimed the construction companies and other firms had trespassed on Palestinian property.
Among the defendants in the case is Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire and major Republican donor, who filed a motion to dismiss the case in June 2016. In a separate motion to dismiss, defendants in the case said the allegations raised political questions courts should not answer.
In a 21-page opinion released Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit disagreed, saying the court could decide the case without stepping directly into fraught foreign policy battles. The ruling reverses a federal judge’s dismissal of the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
U.S. Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson said the complaint can be reduced to two potentially political questions: who has sovereignty over the disputed territory, and are Israeli settlers committing genocide?
Writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, Henderson said answering the first question would improperly throw a court into the foreign policy arena.
“By answering the question – regardless of the answer – the court would directly contradict the executive, which has formally decided to take no position on the question,” Henderson wrote.
But the second question, Henderson wrote, would come with no such concern. She also said the lower court could decide the case without answering the first political question.
“A legal determination that Israeli settlers commit genocide in the disputed territory would not decide the ownership of the disputed territory and thus would not directly contradict any foreign policy choice,” Henderson wrote.
U.S. Circuit Judges Nina Pillard and Harry Edwards joined Henderson on the panel.
Attorneys for neither side replied to requests for comment sent Wednesday afternoon.