Courtroom sketch of US terror trial.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
History was made in a federal courthouse in New York City on Monday. After a six-week trial the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) were found liable under the federal Anti-Terrorism Act for six terrorist attacks occurring from 2002 through 2004 against US citizens in Jerusalem.
The federal civil jury of 12 unanimously awarded the victims and members of their families a total of $218.5 million, which will automatically be tripled by the judge under the Act.
The road to justice was long and arduous for the victims and their family members. It has taken over 11 years for them to marshal their resources with the help of a non-profit legal rights organization called Shurat Hadin (Letter of the Law) located in Israel. Their efforts together with the trial expertise of lead counsel Kent Yalowitz of the law firm of Arnold & Porter helped show the jury that the PA/PLO not only created a culture of support for suicide bombers and terrorists but also used their own employees to organize and perpetrate many of the bombings.
The jury found against the PA/PLO on every point of the multi-layered verdict. This included findings that the PA/PLO provided material support to the individual perpetrators and their organizations including the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and Hamas. In addition to supportive pronouncements, weapons, bombs, transport, safe houses and money were provided by the PA/ PLO.
In his closing summations, Yalowitz noted that the PA/PLO under Arafat paid families of suicide bombers “martyrs’ payments” and continued to pay salaries to PA/PLO employees who committed the terrorist acts even while they sat in Israeli prison.
The defense argued that the terrorists acted independently for their own “personal” or “crazy reasons” and that the PA/PLO should not be held responsible for rogue employees. But Yalowitz countered that this would be akin to off-duty NYPD officers going on a shooting spree in New Jersey and returning to New York, not to be arrested and fired, but to continue on the payroll, be given a bonus and promoted even after being convicted and serving time in prison.
This historic decision sends a clear message to the perpetrators of terrorism and to the US administration that the American people have no patience for acts of terrorism that harm US civilians and will show no hesitation in imposing the rule of law on the perpetrators and those who send them. Of equal importance is that the decision says that the PA/PLO, which the US funds with taxpayer money, is in fact a terrorist organization. And terrorist activities for which the PA/PLO were found liable are still carried out by the PA/PLO today. The salaries of convicted terrorists are still paid, PA-sponsored media continues to glorify and incite attacks, Palestinian Arab children are taught to hate Jews. All the while the US continues to send funds.
The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has for years alleged what the court found to be true on Monday; that the PA is a terrorist organization. And the ZOA has said that the PA should be treated accordingly by the US government; aid should be cut, sanctions should be levied, and policies calling for a Palestinian state should be recanted.
Monday’s unanimous decision all but codified the ZOA position in US law, but it remains to be seen whether or not the US government will act.
It should, in fact, it must.
At a time when Iran, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism is marching toward nuclear weapons, when Islamic State (IS) is beheading people merely for being Christian, when Boko Haram is kidnapping girls for going to school, the Obama administration needs to take the issue of terrorism as seriously as the jury did on Monday.
Consider the message it would signal if the US government cut funding to the PA – an entity widely and as evidenced by the February 23 ruling, incorrectly – labeled “moderate.” Other “more radical” organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, IS, Boko Haram and others, would be put on notice. And states like Iran and Qatar who fund these entities would receive a clear warning.
Indeed, it would be suspect if the US opts to continue funding the PA given the federal court’s decision. How can we condemn Iran, Qatar and others for sponsoring terrorism if we continue to sponsor an entity that has been deemed a terrorist organization by our own courts? Justice was served on Monday, but there is more to do. The United States must cut aid to the PA, and it must do so expeditiously.The author is executive director of the New York Metro Chapter for the Zionist Organization of America. He previously served as an analyst for the US Department of State in the Bureau of Political Military Affairs.