Deliberations are expected to be underway today in a civil lawsuit brought by American victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks during the second Intifada.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) could face $1 billion in damages to the victims' families and survivors of the attacks if jurors find that it, along with the Palestine Liberation Organization and its branches, encouraged its people to carry out attacks on Israeli civilians. The attacks took place between 2001-04 and include shooting attacks on public streets and bombings targeting buses and a Hebrew University cafeteria.
During six weeks of testimony, jurors saw internal PA documents which detailed payments to terrorists being held in Israeli prisons, and to families of terrorists killed carrying out attacks. In closing arguments Thursday, defense attorney Mark Rochon reiterated the PA's claim that the terrorists acted on their own. Payments to the families were meant to provide support for those suddenly left without the breadwinner's income.
For those in prison, the payments increased based upon the length of sentence. That support still flows today.
Kent Yalowitz, who represents the American victims, argued that the PA's documents show that the violence was sanctioned at the highest levels.
"Where are the documents punishing employees for killing people? We don't have anything like that in this case," Yalowitz said.
What they do have are documents detailing the payments to the terrorists and their families containing hand-written notes of approval by longtime PLO Chairman and then PA President Yasser Arafat. In addition, a 2002 report about West Bank operations sent to the PA's General Intelligence Service chief praised one 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. Some of the attacks at issue were carried out by Fatah, the PLO's armed wing, or the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Records show those groups ultimately were part of the same hierarchy controlled by Arafat until his death in 2004.
The lawsuit, Sokolow v. PLO, was brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act. The plaintiffs asked for a judgment of $350 million, but that could be tripled under the law's provisions because terrorist acts were at issue.
The prospect of such a huge judgment isn't the Palestinian Authority's only worry. A judgment against the PA "threatens to undermine Palestinian efforts to rally international support for a brewing battle at the International Criminal Court in The Hague," according to an Associated Press report.
It cited multiple PA officials who acknowledged anxiety over the jury's deliberations.