Palestinian Authority (PA) policies, including direct financial support to employees convicted on terrorism charges, and payments to families of those killed waging terrorist attacks, make it liable for damages in attacks which killed and wounded Americans, a New York jury decided Monday.
Jurors awarded $218.5 million in damages to the victims and their families. Provisions in the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act triple that to $655.5 million.
The jury's award "will not bring back these families' loved ones, nor heal the physical and psychological wounds inflicted upon them, but it truly is an important measure of justice and closure for them after their long years of tragic suffering and pain," said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of Israel's Shurat HaDin law center, said after the jury award was announced. Darshan-Leitner has helped bring numerous civil cases against sponsors of terrorist attacks, saying the aim here, as in the other cases is "making the defendants pay for their terrorist crimes against innocent civilians and letting them know that there will eventually be a price to be paid for sending suicide bombers onto our buses and into our cafes."
The judgment comes at a particularly difficult time for the Palestinian Authority, already strapped for cash and hoping to secure a place in the International Criminal Court to pursue war crimes charges against Israelis.
The jury received the case late Thursday, after about six weeks of testimony. They heard from survivors and eyewitnesses to the attacks, which included shooting sprees on Jerusalem streets, suicide bombings and the bombing of a Hebrew University cafeteria. Those attacks killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more.
Targeting civilians was "standard operating procedure" for the Palestine Liberation Organization, its Fatah military wing and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, plaintiffs' attorney Kent Yalowitz told jurors when the trial began. Yasser Arafat, the PLO's longtime chairman and the PA's president, controlled all those entities.
Arafat's handwritten consent appears on PA documents detailing the payments to the terrorists and their families that later were seized by Israeli military forces. Those records became key evidence showing the PA's knowledge and support for the bloody wave of attacks. One 2002 report sent to the PA's General Intelligence Service chief praised a West Bank squad for its "high quality successful attacks."
The squad's "men are very close to us (i.e. to the General Intelligence) and maintain with us continuous coordination and contacts," the report said.
Many of the attackers and their accomplices were PA employees. Those who were sent to Israeli prisons remained on the PA payroll, with periodic raises depending on the length of their sentences.
Palestinian officials promise to appeal.
Defense attorneys maintained that the terrorists acted on their own and that the PA could not be responsible for the actions of all of its employees. In his closing argument, Yalowitz asked jurors to consider the outrageous nature of such communication.
"If you have a policy that says: If you commit a terrorist act, you keep your job," gain promotions and keep your pay while serving a prison sentence, "that says something about who you are and what you believe in."