MANHATTAN (CN) – As a New York trial over decade-old terror attacks in Jerusalem ended Thursday, lawyers for the Palestinian Authority and families of the victims had only one point of agreement: the bombings and the shootings that took place were indefensible.
They argued about whom to hold responsible.
If found liable, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the PA will owe roughly $350 million to ten families among the 33 people killed and 450 wounded in those attacks.
Day-long closing arguments ended with a lawyer for the victims, Kent Yalowitz of the New York-based firm Arnold & Porter, showing jurors pictures of each of his clients and the family members that they lost – along with the compensation that he recommended.
Triple damages under the Anti-Terrorism Act could bring that amount to just over $1 billion for the PA, about a tenth of what its gross domestic product as estimated by the World Bank.
Palestinian Authority attorney Mark Rochon, of the Washington-based Miller & Chevalier, emphasized the case related only to six attacks in Jerusalem, and not Palestinian governance or history writ large.
“We’re not here to decide the Second Intifada,” Rochon said, referring to how the Palestinian uprising eventually came to be known.
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.
“These incidents are by the extremists,” Rochon said. “The bad guys.”
For Yalowitz, the attackers were “intermediaries” for late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who chaired Fatah at the same time he led the PA and the PLO.
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade described itself as Fatah’s “armed wing” on its website, Yalowitz noted.
Evidence showed that PA police and other representatives appeared among the suicide bombers and convicted co-conspirators in multiple attacks.
But Rochon argued that these people represented a fraction of their estimated 40,000 security personnel and 100,000 government employees.
“It was a fledgling government working under the most difficult circumstances imaginable,” Rochon said. “Just imagine trying to keep the situation under control, if possible.”
Contending that his clients tried to prevent the violence, Rochon pointed to an Israeli court record stating that one suicide bomber, Ali Ja’ara, could have been foiled if a co-conspirator had reported him to his PA employers.
The U.S. government’s PLO Compliance Report, known as PLOCCA, stopped short of drawing a firm link between Arafat’s organizations and the attacks.
“There is no conclusive evidence that the senior leaderships of the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian Liberation Organization were involved in planning or approving specific acts of violence,” the report said.
Yalowitz noted that his clients’ have a lower burden of proof for the PA’s liability: preponderance of the evidence, which he likened to tipping Lady Justice’s scales.
He argued that the PA could also be found liable for giving convicted attackers official payments, praise and promotions.
Arafat encouraged extremism by speaking of “blood and martyrdom” in Palestinian police magazines, Yalowitz said.
“Our Palestinian people are persevering in the glorious intifada, the blessed al-Aqsa intifada, for the third consecutive month,” one passage stated.
Referring to the financial records of convicted attackers, Yalowitz asked: “Is there a civilized government in the world that pays people that hurt innocent civilians?”
Earlier in the trial, Rochon defended the payments as part of the Palestinian “social welfare state” for prisoners, regardless of the crime.
He argued that the so-called martyr payments that go to Palestinians locked up for security-related offenses were a policy aimed at stopping families from turning to more radical groups like Hamas.
“Nobody killed themselves so their families could get 600 shekels a month,” Rochon said.
Toward the end of Yalowitz’s arguments, he took out the cheap ingredients of a bomb used in one attack: a shampoo bottle containing screws that were retrieved from the bodies and clothing of two of his clients, Alan and Yoni Bauer.
“Terror has to cost these people much more than a bag of screws and a shampoo bottle,” he said.
Jury instructions are slated for Friday morning, with deliberations to follow.
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