An NIS 70-million joint lawsuit was filed against the Hilton Hotels Corporation in the Jerusalem District Court Tuesday by 100 survivors and families of the victims of the October 2004 car bombing of the Hilton Taba Hotel and Casino in the Sinai Peninsula.
More than five years after the explosion, which claimed 33 lives, and after an attempted lawsuit in the United States, the survivors of the attack are suing Hilton in Israel, seeking damages and compensation that may add up to NIS 70 million.
The deceased's survivors and family members are claiming the luxury hotel chain failed to take the security precautions needed to protect its guests.
On Thursday, October 7, 2004, at 10 p.m., a single terrorist, driving a car loaded with half a ton of explosives, drove into the lobby of the hotel and blew up the entrance wing of the 410-room resort. More than 30 people were killed in the explosion and dozens more were wounded. With the attack taking place near the end of the Sukkot holiday, many of the guests were Israelis.
In the 70-page-long charge sheet, Atty. Moshe Zingel, who has been representing the survivors since the attack, argues that Hilton Taba, under the supervision of Hilton International, neglected to adequately protect its guests from a terrorist attack despite terror warnings that were prevalent at the time and the hotel's vulnerable location at the meeting point of four countries.
"On the day the attack took place, not a single security person was guarding the entrance to the hotel. A lone terrorist was able to cause so much damage simply because no precautions were taken," said Zingel.
"If you were to go to the hotel today, you'd see it's protected like a military establishment, but that night there were no police blockades, no security cameras, nobody to inspect the people entering the hotel.
Zingel argues that Hilton, a trusted and internationally-known name in the industry, should have ensured more protection was in place.
"The defendant left the security arrangements to the hands of the local Egyptian workers, therefore the security procedures remained at the local level, without feedback and supervision from the parent company in the United States," Zingel explained.
The victims of the attack represented by Zingel decided to file a lawsuit in Israel after failing to pass a similar lawsuit in the United States in 2007. After a year and a half of procedures, US district judge Peter Leisure ruled that the plaintiffs had no connection to the United States and much of the evidence would be found in Egypt or Israel, including testimony from Egyptian police.
The judge said Egypt or Israel would be a better forum for the claims, as many victims received medical treatment in Israel and much of the evidence is in Hebrew or Arabic.
"After the judge ruled forum non conveniens, we were forced to start the case over from scratch here in Israel," said Zingel. "It took us a long time to gather all the testimonies and a year to collect the medical records of all the victims. Today we filed the lawsuit in Jerusalem and we hope the case will be heard in the next couple of months."
Zingel also said that the victims were waiting for some sort of recognition of their plight by the international hotel chain.
"The only connection we've had with the company during the last four years is through their lawyers," said Zingel. "The only letter the victims ever received from the chain was when they announced they were reopening the hotel after completing renovations."
According to the lawsuit, the victims suffer from a wide range of ailments, from physical disabilities like loss of hearing and chronic pains, to mental and emotional disabilities caused by the trauma and the loss.
Hilton Hotels attorney Peggy Sharon said she could not comment on the lawsuit as she hadn't seen it yet.