Home inContext Trial Against PLO Opens in Manhattan

Trial Against PLO Opens in Manhattan

Michael Johnson

Opening arguments in a lawsuit against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) began in a Manhattan federal courtroom on Tuesday. Over the next eight weeks, a jury will consider whether the two Palestinian leadership organizations should be held financially responsible for supporting terrorist attacks in Israel against U.S. citizens and interests between 2002 and 2004.

The plaintiffs in the case, represented by Kent Yalowitz, plan to show that the Palestinian leadership “embraced” the murder of 33 people during seven different attacks, including a suicide bus bombing. Yalowitz contends “killing civilians was standard operating procedure” for the PA, which continued to pay wages of officials who organized the attacks. Lawyers for Mark Sokolow, the lead plaintiff in the suit, said they would show evidence of how the PA provided “martyr payments” to the families of anyone imprisoned while resisting the “occupation”. Meanwhile, graphic testimony from a shopkeeper who witnessed “…bodies [and] corpses … flying onto the ground and rooftops” during a suicide bombing helped set the emotional tone of the trial.

The defense team looks on as late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is projected onscreen during the plaintiff’s opening statements in court on January 13. (Photo: Reuters)

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991 enhances the plaintiff’s position in the case, allowing U.S. victims and their relatives to sue the financiers of foreign terrorism in civil court. The law could also triple any damages awarded to the plaintiffs, who are seeking $1 billion in redress. Defense attorneys had attempted to get the lawsuit dismissed by arguing the court held no jurisdiction over the PLO’s 12-person mission in the United States.

Late last year, a New York City jury found Arab Bank liable for funding 24 other terrorist attacks committed by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, opening the door to other suits under the 1991 statute. Lawyers in the case argued that the bank “knowingly provid[ed] banking and administrative services to charitable front organizations, including collecting, transferring, and laundering funds” for terrorist organizations. Upcoming hearings will determine damages in that case.