A view of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Palestinian Authority goes on trial on terrorism-related charges for the first time in the US on Tuesday. It faces claims of liability for terrorism, murder, and wrongful death damages that reach all the way up to the late PA head Yasser Arafat.
Jury selection was completed last week. The case, which could carry a billion-dollar price tag, was given the green light last week when the US Supreme Court rejected an interim appeal by the PA to block the trial.
It opens at a dramatic moment when the PA has begun procedures to bring Israelis before the International Criminal Court on alleged war crimes charges, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledging to push cases like this one against the PA in countries around the world in retaliation.
The case revolves around a January 7, 2001 machine gun attack; a January 22, 2002, assault rifle attack; suicide bombings on January 27, March 21, and June 19, 2002, and January 29, 2004; and a large-scale bombing attack on July 31, 2002 – all of which took place in Jerusalem.
US District Judge George B. Daniels said the victims’ families allege that the PLO carried out terrorist acts to “terrorize, intimidate, and coerce the civilian population of Israel into acquiescing to defendants’ political goals and demands, and to influence the policy of the United States and Israeli governments in favor of accepting defendants’ political goals and demands.”
Dozens of survivors of the attacks may testify in a trial expected to last up to three months.
In November, the plaintiffs in the anti-terrorism civil-damages case against the PA beat most of a summary judgment motion – in which the claims of eight out of nine victims’ families managed to evade the PA’s motion to throw out the case, paving the way for a full trial against the PA.
Claims that the PA bore direct federal liability got by as well.
“For the first time, the Palestinian Authority will have to defend its policy of terrorism and murder before a jury of 12 ordinary New York residents,” said the Shurat Hadin organization, which is representing the plaintiffs.
“We are all very determined that the evidence of the Palestinian Authority’s responsibility for the Hebrew University cafeteria bombing and other intifada terrorist attacks targeting civilians will soon be presented to the jury.”
The heart of the case that Shurat Hadin and Kent Yalowitz of Arnold & Porter LLP have brought on behalf of 11 victims’ families is a move to sue the PA for its alleged involvement in seven terrorist attacks from 2001-2004 during the second intifada.
According to the plaintiffs, several PA operatives have already been criminally convicted in Israeli courts for involvement in the attacks, some with multiple convictions.
They say every attack involved at least one PA employee and that the PA kept the workers on its payroll – in some cases promoting and even lionizing them, including after their convictions.
On the basis of the PA’s alleged connection to the approximately 30 perpetrators, the plaintiffs argue that the PA has vicarious liability for the actions of its employees.