The New York Times
The Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization were found liable on Monday by a jury in Manhattan for their role in knowingly supporting six terrorist attacks in Israel between 2002 and 2004 in which Americans were killed and injured.
The jury in Federal District Court in Manhattan awarded $218.5 million in damages, a number that is automatically tripled to $655.5 million under the special terrorism law under which the case was brought.
The verdict ended a decade-long legal battle to hold the Palestinian organizations responsible for the terrorist acts. And while the decision was a huge victory for the dozens of plaintiffs, it also could serve to strengthen the Israeli claim that the supposedly more moderate Palestinian forces are directly tied to terrorism.
The financial implications of the verdict for the defendants were not immediately clear. The Palestinian Authority, led by Mahmoud Abbas, had serious financial troubles even before Israel, as punishment for the Palestinians’ move in December to join the International Criminal Court, began withholding more than $100 million a month in tax revenue it collects on the Palestinians’ behalf.
The verdict came in the seventh week of a civil trial in which the jury had heard emotional testimony from survivors of suicide bombings and other attacks in Jerusalem, in which a total of 33 people were killed and more than 450 were injured.
“Money is oxygen for terrorism,” Kent A. Yalowitz, a lawyer for the families, said in a closing argument on Thursday, noting that the antiterrorism law “hits those who send terrorists where it hurts them most: in the wallet.”
The case was brought under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which allows American nationals who are victims of international terrorism to sue in the United States courts. The law was used last September by a Brooklyn jury to find Arab Bank liable for supporting terrorism by Hamas. Damages in that case, filed by about 300 victims of 24 terrorist attacks, are to be decided in a second trial, which has not yet been held.
In the Palestinian case, the plaintiffs included 10 families, comprising about three dozen members, eight of whom had been physically injured in the attacks while the others had been left with deep psychological scars, testimony showed.
The plaintiffs also included the estates of four victims who had been killed in the attacks, which occurred on the street and at a crowded bus stop, inside a bus, and in a cafeteria on the campus of Hebrew University.
“It was a terrible thing to see,” one plaintiff, Robert Coulter Sr., 78, testified as he described watching a Fox TV news report about the cafeteria bombing and realizing his 36-year-old daughter, a New Yorker on a business trip, was one of the victims.
“They brought a body bag out on the TV station, right on it, and went right down to where she was laying and I knew it was a girl, had blond hair,” Mr. Coulter recalled. “I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, that’s Janis.’”
The defense had argued that their clients had nothing to do with the attacks. Mark J. Rochon, a defense lawyer, told the jury on Thursday that he did not want “the bad guys, the killers, the people who did this, to get away while the Palestinian Authority or the P.L.O. pay for something they did not do.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the P.L.O.’s executive committee who testified for the defense, told the jury, “We tried to prevent violence from all sides.”
But citing testimony, payroll records and other documents, the plaintiffs showed that many of those involved in the planning and carrying out of the attacks had been employees of the Palestinian Authority, and that the authority had paid salaries to terrorists imprisoned in Israel and made martyr payments to the families of suicide bombers.