US judge to hold key hearing in possible landmark terrorism case against PA

Eleven families of terror victims are suing the Palestinian Authority for alleged involvement of personnel in 7 terror attacks from 2001-2004, during the 2nd intifada.

Lt. Eitan, Presiden Rivlin pay respects to Goldin family (photo credit: GPO)
Lt. Eitan, Presiden Rivlin pay respects to Goldin family
(photo credit: GPO)
A hearing which could determine the course of a possible billion dollar US anti-terror civil damages case against the Palestinian Authority is set for Thursday.
The heart of the case, brought by the NGO Shurat Hadin – Israel Law Center and Kent Yalowitz of Arnold Porter 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 have already been criminally convicted in Israeli courts for involvement in the terror incidents, some with multiple convictions.
They said that every single attack had at least one PA employee involved and that the PA kept the employees 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 around 30 perpetrators, the plaintiffs argue that the PA has vicarious liability for the actions of its employees.
The hearing itself may involve: the US federal New York judge deciding a summary judgment motion argued in July; his setting a trial date of as early as a few months from now or, at the very least, giving the parties a strong indication of where the case is going.
Previously, the court had said it would try to decide the summary judgment motion by Thursday and that trial could start as early as January 2015, after long years of litigation and attacks dating back over a decade.
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 has usually refused to engage and had default judgments entered against it, or settled cases 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 areas being blacked out as 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.
A group of reporters is seeking to have the gag order lifted, but their motion has not yet been ruled on and the judge previously rejected the plaintiffs’ motion to do so.
The plaintiffs said that 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 that 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.
In the days when Yasser Arafat ran the PA, many similar cases were ignored, whereas under Salim Fayyad, the PA showed up and tried to settle certain suits.
It is unclear, if the case becomes the first of its kind to go before a jury, why the PA tactics and willingness to go to trial have changed here.