NEW YORK – Official Palestinian Authority policy provides monthly payments for convicted terrorists held in Israeli jails. The longer the sentence, the more the terrorist's family receives.
A jury saw the document outlining that policy Thursday during testimony in a $1 billion civil trial brought by American victims of terrorist attacks in Israel between 2002 and 2004. The attacks were carried out by branches of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Palestinian Authority (PA), their employees or others who received assistance from the groups.
Alon Eviatar, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Israeli Defense Forces, told jurors that the PA, PLO, Fatah and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade are all part of the same hierarchy. Fatah members dominate PA employee rosters, he said.
That information goes to the heart of the case.
When the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade committed terrorist attacks, or when PA employees participated directly in other attacks, they were advancing the defendants' policy of supporting "the struggle against the occupation."
The lawsuit, Sokolow v. PLO, was brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Attorneys for the Palestinian Authority deny there was any systematic program to enable and support the terrorist attacks. They say the attacks were the actions of individuals and the PA and PLO should not be held liable.
To support Eviatar's testimony, jurors saw official Palestinian Authority documents and emblems which list the PLO's name just above the PA's, indicating they are the same body.
When he was alive, PA President Yasser Arafat controlled them all. He also was the PLO's longtime chairman and created Fatah in 1959, Eviatar said. The Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade is Fatah's military branch. Jurors also saw repeated examples of Palestinian Authority money being routed to Fatah branches throughout the West Bank between 2000 and 2003.
Eviatar spent most of his 22-year military career in intelligence focused on the Palestinian territories. He described the law and regulations detailing financial support for terrorists in Israeli prisons as "one of the most significant elements of Palestinian government" in maintaining public support.
According to the 2004 regulation, prisoners serving up to five years in Israeli prisons receive 1,300 shekels per month. Wives of married inmates receive another 300 shekels, and an additional 50 shekels a month is sent for each child in the family. After five years, the payments increase to 2,000 shekels. Inmates in prison longer than 25 years are paid 4,000 shekels.
In addition, convicted terrorists who were PA employees continue to draw their salaries and benefit from promotions even though they are behind bars. For example, jurors saw that Majed Al-Masri was promoted from major in the Palestinian Security Forces to colonel in 2010. By then, he had been in prison for five years for his role in an Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade terrorist shooting attack in 2002 that killed two women.
Eviatar's testimony continues Friday. Brian Hill, an attorney for the PLO and PA, indicated outside the jury's presence that Eviatar's cross examination will point out that the prisoner financing policy was not yet in effect in 2002, when most of the attacks in the lawsuit took place.
Earlier Thursday, U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels rejected a defense motion for a mistrial after Kent Yalowitz, attorney for the victims, read excerpts from an addition to the Oslo Accords, the U.S.-brokered agreement between Israel and the PLO that led to the Palestinian Authority's creation. The excerpts called on both the Israelis and Palestinians to aggressively police against terrorism and other violence and to cooperate with each other on security.
That includes arresting people plotting attacks and communicating with each other about such plots.
Evidence already before the jury shows Palestinian security officials were involved in several of the attacks at issue and that a key Hamas bomb maker was released by Palestinian police who originally arrested him for plotting a terrorist attack. That Hamas terrorist "went on a killing spree," Yalowitz said in his opening statement, building bombs that killed 66 people.
Reading from the Oslo document improperly injected politics into the trial, defense attorney Mark Rochon argued. Both parties promised not to do that, and the prejudicial effect on jurors was cause for a mistrial.
Daniels rejected the defense's argument, noting that the document itself was admitted into evidence without objection. Once that happened, Yalowitz "can do what he wants with it."