Jury selection starts in first ever terrorism trial against PA in US

The PA's interim-appeal to the US Supreme Court was denied.

January 7, 2015 06:44
3 minute read.
US Supreme Court

US Supreme Court. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Jury selection started on Tuesday in the first-ever terrorism-related trial against the Palestinian Authority in the US, a case which could carry a billion-dollar price tag.

Opening statements are set for next Tuesday with the US Supreme Court rejecting an interim-appeal by the PA asking it to intervene and block the trial late Tuesday.

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In November, the plaintiffs in the anti-terrorism civil-damages case against the PA beat most of a summary judgment motion, paving the way for a first full trial against the PA.

Shurat Hadin, representing the plaintiffs, said, "After more than a decade of the defendants' tireless efforts to stall the case, the families and attorneys are grateful that jury selection will now begin."

It continued, "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. 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 claims of eight of nine victims’ families had evaded the PA’s motion to throw out the case pretrial on vicarious liability arguments under the US Anti-terrorism Act and claims for direct federal liability to the PA got by, as well.

In November, one of the nine families had its case thrown out and claims for direct state liability against the PA also were thrown out but the overall outcome meant the trial will go forward after years of litigation and attacks dating back over a decade unless the PA tries to settle the case.

The heart of the case, brought by Shurat Hadin and Kent Yalowitz of Arnold & Porter LLP on behalf of 11 victims’ families, is suing the PA for the alleged involvement of its personnel in seven terror attacks from 2001-2004 during the second intifada.

According to the plaintiffs, several of the PA operatives already have been criminally convicted in Israeli courts for involvement in the terrorist incidents, some with multiple convictions.

They said every attack had at least one PA employee involved and that the PA kept the workers on their payroll, in some cases promoting and even lionizing and glorifying them, even after they were convicted.

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.

On September 23, a Brooklyn jury handed down the first major terror financing verdict following a full trial against a major financial institution – Arab Bank.

If this case goes to trial, it would be of similar stature and could be the first of its kind against the PA, which usually has refused to engage and had default judgments entered against it, or settled quietly out of court.

The case has included the rare event of the PA producing its internal personnel files, including “martyrs” files and intelligence dossiers.

Because of that development, some court documents contain extended sections that are blacked out because the identities of many of the PA personnel remain under seal for the knowledge of the court, but not the general public, despite such protections being rare in civil cases.

The plaintiffs said evidence against the PA and their employees includes convictions and confessions against the employees; internal PA records showing payments and promotions of the convicted terrorists while in jail; and statements in PA publications reflecting incitement and approval of the attacks (which they say reveal the PA’s state of mind.) In one instance, the plaintiffs say the PA provided Hamas support, personnel and bomb-making equipment as retaliation for Israel’s targeted killing of a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader.

One challenge the plaintiffs will have to overcome is using Israeli military court convictions as direct evidence.

While there is no equivalent case, plaintiffs believe they will succeed on this since US courts have recognized Israeli military court convictions in immigration- deportation cases and they were used in the recent Arab Bank case.

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