After 11 years, NY trial starts for Israel attacks’ victims

Author: Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) – Eleven years after filing a billion-dollar lawsuit, terrorism victims hope to prove that the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization were behind attacks in Israel between January 2001 and February 2004.

Jury selection began Tuesday with U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels telling prospective jurors to put aside politics and emotions and to decide the case objectively. He also said opening statements were likely Tuesday afternoon.

The 2004 lawsuit claims that the Palestinian Authority and PLO were behind seven shootings and bombings near or in Jerusalem. The attacks killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more, including scores of U.S. citizens.

Lawyers for the PA and PLO say a U.S. court should not have jurisdiction over the case.

The trial, expected to last up to three months, is occurring despite a last-ditch unsuccessful attempt by the PLO and PA to convince appeals judges that a Manhattan court does not have jurisdiction. The effort was rejected by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit brought under the Antiterrorism Act of 1991 is being heard by an anonymous jury.

“The injuries remain very fresh for most of these people,” plaintiffs’ attorney Phil Horton said. “It is often hard to work with them because the pain is still so great. There have been a lot of tears in conference rooms.”

Horton said some victims are seeking a sense of closure and many were interested in accountability. Numerous victims were scheduled to testify.

Any damages awarded to the plaintiffs would be automatically tripled because the claims involved acts of terrorism, he said.

“This case is really about the rule of law. Can you take the law into your own hands or not?” Horton said. “Terrorism is the opposite of the rule of law.”

If successful, the plaintiffs expect to recover a substantial amount of any award, although attorneys would not be able to pursue documentation of the groups’ assets until they win, he said.

“The one thing I’m sure about is they wouldn’t be spending what are clearly enormous sums on the case if they didn’t believe there was money to be collected at the end of the day,” Horton said.

In court papers, lawyers for the PA and PLO say a U.S. court should not have jurisdiction over the case just because the PLO maintains a 12-person office in the United States. They say the PA and PLO’s home is in the West Bank and that U.S. activities are a tiny portion of their worldwide activities.

“Given the high stakes, extraordinary burden, and substantial foreign policy consequences associated with bringing a foreign government to trial for supporting terrorism, the trial … should not go forward in the absence of general personal jurisdiction over them,” the lawyers wrote in papers submitted to the appeals court.

They also said the publicity of the trial, “some of it inevitable, some of it sought by plaintiffs, will undermine the confidence in the PA’s ability to govern and contribute to a worsening of tensions in the region at a delicate moment.”

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