US court tosses lawsuit against Palestinian leaders

Nora Barrows-Friedman

The Electronic Intifada  /  May 8, 2020

A US federal appeals court has thrown out a judgment against the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority.

The suit was brought by US citizens who alleged that Palestinian leaders were responsible for an individual’s 2002 bomb attack in an Israeli settlement built in violation of international law in the occupied West Bank. The attack killed two Americans and injured several other people.

Family members of the victims initially filed the lawsuit in 2003 against the PLO, the PA, the Syrian government and several governmental entities and individuals, as well as 99 anonymous defendants.

They claimed that these groups were liable for the attack by providing financial support to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Palestinian political party with an armed wing.

The plaintiffs sought nearly $900 million in damages under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a US law that allows victims of international terrorism to sue individuals, organizations and institutions in US courts if a sufficient connection to the US can be established.

But the court of appeals in Washington, DC, found in a 14 April decision that US courts “lacked personal jurisdiction over the defendants,” backing the arguments made by the Palestinian entities.

Israel, US attempt to thwart ICC investigations

Israel lobby organizations have attempted repeatedly to implicate Palestinian leadership and political parties in attacks that have killed US citizens.

In 2004, a similar case was filed by Shurat HaDin, an Israeli lawfare group with direct links to Israel’s spying and assassination agency Mossad.

The group filed the suit on behalf of American citizens who survived or whose relatives were killed in seven different incidents between 2001 and 2004 which caused the deaths of 33 people and injured hundreds more.

In February 2015, a jury awarded plaintiffs $218.5 million of the original $1 billion dollars sought in damages. Financial awards in cases filed under the Anti-Terrorism Act are automatically tripled, bringing to $655.5 million the total the PA would have been required to pay.

The plaintiffs argued that the PA and the PLO had enabled and incentivized the attacks and provided material support for their execution. Palestinian defendants maintained the perpetrators had acted independently.

But that lawsuit was thrown out in 2016 by a federal appeals court in New York which ruled that the court lacked jurisdiction to try the civil case.

After further appeals, in 2018 the US Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit entirely.

Meanwhile, Israel and the US – as well as Shurat HaDin itself – have threatened to retaliate if the International Criminal Court pursues the prosecution of Israeli war crimes.

This past week, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court declared that Palestine is a state for the purposes of the Rome Statute on which the tribunal in The Hague was founded.

The court has jurisdiction to investigate war crimes perpetrated in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, Fatou Bensouda added.

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014)