Court Revokes Lien on NIS 36 Million Owed to Palestinian Authority

Tel Aviv District Court has revoked a lien on NIS 36 million belonging to the Palestinian Authority. The court overturned an earlier ruling in a civil case in which the family of terror victim Akterina Weintraub is suing the PA and the PLO for NIS 85 million in damages.

Judge Magen Altuvia stated in his verdict that the sums "were not supported by evidence regarding the scope of damage or compensation". Altuvia also relied on the state's opposition to liens on PA money.

There are about 70 damages suits against the PA in Israeli courts, most filed in the past four years.

Thirty-seven suits stem from terror attacks, 16 are various financial claims, and nine are suits by insurance companies for car theft damages. The suits total close to NIS 6 billion.

Several justices have ordered temporary liens, and Israeli authorities have withheld NIS 800 million in taxes and customs duties collected in Israeli ports on goods slated for the PA.

In early 2003 Israel began systematically holding back the collected taxes, although it began repaying the debt later in the year as part of talks on the road map. The prosecution then opposed the liens, although many judges continued to impose them or refused to revoke existing liens.

In May, Judge Oded Kudrik refused to revoke a lien despite an affidavit from former Prime Minister's Chief of Staff Dov Weissglass stating "the State of Israel seeks to remove the lien in order to maintain free diplomatic rein, meet its commitments to the Palestinian Authority and the U.S. administration as well as examine regional developments in determining policies."

Magen, in contrast, did rely on the state's position and wrote "a representative of the attorney general noted that every month close to NIS 150 million in taxes designated for the Palestinian Authority are collected. There is no motive to end the flow of those moneys."

Magen noted that that had been the state's position when the NIS 36 million lien was first imposed. He also noted that the plaintiffs sought to "impinge on the defendants rights before receiving any ruling in their favor."

Attorney Yossi Arnon, who defends the PA in all the civil suits, now plans to ask for new hearings on all the temporary liens in effect. In addition, the High Court of Justice is slated to hear Arnon's May 2003 appeal against the Israeli judicial branch's authority to try the PA.

Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades killed the 27-year-old Akterina Weintraub, a resident of Ganim in the northern West Bank, in a shooting attack near the village of Jelama on June 28, 2001. Her family is suing the PA and the PLO for NIS 85 million in damages.

Liens can be imposed before verdicts are reached in civil cases when the defendant is an individual who may declare bankruptcy. This does not apply to institutions such as the state or insurance companies. However, the liens rely on an argument that the PA could collapse.

Arnon says the damages demanded in the suits are inflated above and beyond accepted norms. He expects Israeli courts, should they rule in the cases, to award compensation similar to that granted in car accidents, which he claims are no higher than NIS 1 million.

Arnon calls the inflated sums and the current fashion of imposing the temporary liens, a form of financial pressure on the PA. The interest alone on the seized sums is far higher, according to Arnon, than the families can hope to win at trial.

Altuvia also notes a previous ruling that found "temporary liens should not be routinely granted" and that in the balance between the plaintiffs interest "in fulfilling his rights as they are determined by the verdict, and the defendant's right to his property - the defendant's rights take precedence."