A man at an Arab Bank ATM in Gaza CIty..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Arab Bank’s legal team delivered a dramatic closing statement in the terrorism finance case against it in New York, with its lead attorney accusing the plaintiffs’ Hamas expert of making up links between Hamas and bank customers which “grows and grows like Pinocchio’s nose.”
The plaintiffs had not yet made their closing statement.
The case pits 297 plaintiffs – who were wounded or are family members of those murdered in Israel by Hamas during 24 terrorist attacks from 1998-2004 – who are suing the bank for serving as a conduit for financing the attacks via Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah’s al-Shahid Foundation.
The plaintiffs are seeking potentially billions in wrongful death civil damages, while the bank claims it had no knowledge that any of its clients receiving funds were terrorists.
The bank’s lawyer, Shand Stephens, departed from his more cerebral approach and theatrically called on several bank leaders to rise during his statement. As each man rose, he asked whether the jury would say he wanted to support terrorism.
As Arab Bank chairman Sabih al-Masri stood, Stephens asked, “Was that person Sabih al-Masri? Was it him?” Did he “somehow have a hidden agenda to kill innocent people? Because that’s what they’re saying.”
During a short recess, counsel to plaintiffs Mark Werbner commented, “The evidence is very clear that the bank was doing business with Hamas and what we’re hearing them argue today is a distortion of the facts and an ignorance of the law.”
Stephens resumed his closing by arguing that if the jury held the bank liable, they would be shifting onto banks and other non-government institutions the job of deciding who is a terrorist. He asserted that, if the bank checked those receiving funds against relevant US watch-lists, and since most were not listed at the time (and the bank has explanations for those that were), telling the bank it is liable means it should be seeking to define people as terrorists even beyond what US watch lists contain.
“You wouldn’t want Google…to decide who belongs on that list,” Stephens said.
“You wouldn’t want to have them say, ‘We here at Walmart have decided you’re a terrorist.’ ” Stephens also argued that the charities which the bank transferred funds to and which the plaintiffs argued were fronts for Hamas, had such a tiny Hamas representation and that they were not on the US, EU, or UN watch lists.
Stephens rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the bank knew certain clients were from Hamas even if they were not on a watch list, since major figures like Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin were well-known. Stephens compared the population of the West Bank and Brooklyn, both around 2.5 million. “Do you know everybody? Are they your neighbor? Do you know about every public gathering?” he asked.
The case was expected to go to the jury on Friday, following the completion of closing arguments.