Courtroom sketch of US terror trial.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The first witness for the Palestinian Authority, in the opening of its defense against the first-ever terrorism trial against it, took the stand Monday on an icy day in downtown Manhattan.
Maj.-Gen. Majid Faraj, head of the PA’s General Intelligence Service, which was characterized for the jury as “the Palestinian CIA,” described his principal job during the second intifada as promoting stability and combating violence and terrorism.
The plaintiffs, represented by Shurat Hadin – Israel Law Center and Kent Yalowitz of Arnold & Porter, have argued that many PA employees, including numerous policemen and commanders, have been arrested and convicted by Israel as having organized, planned and perpetrated suicide bombings and shootings against Americans in Israel, including the six attacks in the case, from 2001-2004, during the second intifada.
The case could carry a billion dollar price tag and stinging diplomatic complications for the PA, if it loses.
PA defense lawyer Mark Rochon laid out a series of questions designed to distance Faraj’s work for the PA, and the PA itself, from the PLO and Fatah, with Faraj saying his work was directed neither by the PLO nor by Fatah and that they were “political factions,” which he had “nothing to do with.”
The important point that the PA’s defense team hoped to make was that any alleged wrongdoing attributable to PLO or Fatah employees cannot be transferred to the PA. Faraj described his meetings with Yasser Arafat and his training by US, UK, and French forces, once describing a confrontation with Hamas operatives in which his men were wounded.
He also spoke about how militant Palestinian groups targeted police officers and Palestinian security officers, who received threats or had their houses burned down, and how “hundreds [of officers] were injured.”
The defense used Faraj’s testimony along these lines to promote its narrative that PA security forces were aligned with the West, were not involved in terrorism, and even suffered casualties because of their work in combating terrorism.
One main thrust of the morning’s testimony centered on the damage suffered by Palestinian police stations and other Palestinian security facilities – damage that, Rochon said, would illustrate that the Israeli attacks on these buildings hindered the Palestinian security forces’ “ability to function” effectively.
There also appeared to be an implication that the alleged Israeli attacks limited the PA’s ability to orchestrate the terrorist attacks against the Americans in dispute in the case.
During his testimony, Faraj described how his building, previously the largest in the West Bank, was destroyed in 2002.
He went on to detail how buildings in Bethlehem were destroyed by F-16s and how centers in Ramallah, Nablus, and other cities were shelled and destroyed, in addition to several prisons.
When the jury was on a break, plaintiffs’ lawyer Kent Yalowitz argued that during 2000-2004, Faraj was merely a mid-level officer.
According to Yalowitz, Faraj cannot speak to larger questions of what the security forces were doing at the time.
Yalowitz argued that the defense should not be able “to say to the jury the whole place was in chaos and that’s why” the defendants are unable to explain why a prisoner was released, for example.
“There are people with specific knowledge they’ve chosen not to bring to this court,” he said.
Another part of the defense’s strategy appeared to be bringing a high-level PA intelligence officer to contradict the narrative begun by the plaintiffs with a high-level Israeli intelligence officer.
Top Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi was expected to testify late Monday or Tuesday.