WASHINGTON (CN) – The family of an American woman killed in Israel can continue depositions they hope will confirm the existence of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a federal magistrate ruled.
Esther Klieman was ambushed and killed in March 2002 while traveling to her job as a special-needs kindergarten teacher. Tamer Rimawi, who was later convicted as the gunman, allegedly told an Israeli policeman during questioning that he committed the murder as a member of al-Aqsa.
But Rimawi’s story changed after Klieman’s family sued the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization in Washington. The federal complaint claimed that these entities directly supported and controlled al-Aqsa at the time of the attack.
During deposition in January 2012, Rimawi claimed that he was not a member of al-Aqsa, and that he claimed otherwise to harm those whom he implicated as his recruiters.
The Klieman family moved to depose the Israeli police officer who interviewed Rimawi after the attack, one of those alleged Al-Aqsa recruiters and the former head of the Palestinian Security Services.
But the defendants claimed that Al-Aqsa is not a real entity. They pointed to depositions already taken from others involved in the Klieman attack who said al-Aqsa was only a name and had no center, leadership, headquarters or members.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge John Facciola rejected this argument last week.
“Defendants ignore that even though they contend that there is no such thing as al-Aqsa and that plaintiffs cannot connect defendants with al-Aqsa, plaintiffs still have the right to gather evidence that might support their theory,” Facciola wrote.
Israel can decide whether to allow depositions of the its police officer, Rimawi’s alleged recruiter and another man convicted of the Klieman murder, Annan Aziz Salim Hashash, to corroborate Rimawi’s testimony.
The Kliemans cannot compel the production, however, of former Palestinian security chief Jabril Rajoub since Rajoub is not a current employee of either defendant.
Rajoub made public statements that al-Asqa was part of and could be controlled by Fatah, the political party that controls the Palestinian Authority.
“There is nothing in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that compels defendants, the PA and the PLO, to produce a person who is not employed by them but is a member of the Central Committee of Fatah,” he wrote, abbreviating the names of the defendant entites.
Facciola also refused to compel the testimony of the current secretary general of the PLO’s executive committee, Abed Rabbo.
Rabbo had made comments, first as the Palestinian information minister, and later as representative to peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, that allegedly showed that the defendants controlled the violence in the Occupied Territories.
Facciola concluded, hwoever, that Rabbo’s comments were made in context of peace negotiations and were irrelevant to Klieman’s murder.
“Rabbo’s statements cannot possibly make it more likely than not that defendants are liable for the acts that took Klieman’s life,” the decision states. “No judge would admit them as proof of liability and they cannot serve as a premise for Rabbo’s deposition.”
Facciola extended the discovery deadline in the case to Dec. 31 because “the process of taking these depositions, given the need to coordinate with the Israeli government, is an untreatably lengthy and complicated one.”