The Jerusalem District Court ruled on Monday that the Palestinian Authority is liable for damages for 17 terror attacks committed during the second intifada, almost 20 years ago.
Several of these attacks were not committed directly by PA personnel, but by members of other organizations like Hamas or Islamic Jihad, and the PA didn’t know about plans to perpetrate them beforehand. Nevertheless, in a novel decision, deputy court president Moshe Drori said the PA could be held liable even for attacks that it only approved retroactively.
“When attacks were committed by other groups that [Yasser] Arafat, the PA and the PLO didn’t know about, they retroactively endorsed the attacks, in various ways,” Drori wrote.
Then, using the Arabic word for “martyr,” which is what Palestinians call anti-Israel terrorists, Drori continued, “In public speeches, they said that each of the shahids was sent by them; they ordered financial support for the shahids in prison and their families, and also for the families of shahids who died while committing attacks. As the former [Palestinian] minister of prisoner affairs, [Ashraf] Ajrami, said, ‘No Palestinian leader in the world, not now and not in another 100 years, can halt the salaries to prisoners’ families or shahids’ families.’”
The ruling covers multiple suits filed almost 20 years ago. The first was submitted in 2000, shortly after the intifada began, by the family of soldier Vadim Norzhich, who was lynched when he took a wrong turn and entered Ramallah.
Aside from the PA, the defendants include the PLO, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Yasser Arafat and former senior Fatah officials Mohammed Dahlan and Marwan Barghouti.
The main concern of the case was whether the PA could in fact be held liable for terror attacks launched from its territory during the intifada. Before deciding that it could, Drori had to issue another ruling – that since the PA isn’t a state, it doesn’t enjoy sovereign immunity and can therefore be sued in Israeli courts.
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In his ruling, Drori discussed four ways in which the PA and the PLO might bear responsibility for terror attacks – ideologically, financially, practically and through their media outlets. He concluded that they were liable for the first three. But the plaintiffs failed to prove that incitement to violence in the media had a causal connection to the attacks, he said.
The PA’s responsibility could be inferred inter alia from steps it took after the attacks, Drori said. These included payments to the terrorists and/or their families, lauding the attacks and their perpetrators in official publications and websites, holding rallies in honor of the terrorists, and naming streets and sports teams after them. He also cited statements by senior PA and PLO officials that all the terrorists were effectively sent by them, even terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“Their ideology was an ideology of terrorism,” he wrote. They supported committing attacks throughout Israel, and they created a well-organized, ramified infrastructure to do so," he said.
Both the PA and the PLO lauded “the blessed intifada” and the perpetrators of terror attacks, the ruling said. They warned terrorists sought by Israel so they could escape, and terrorists arrested by the PA were released soon afterward. They purchased arms in large quantities for the purpose of committing attacks, and also provided terrorists with funding to purchase their own arms, Drori continued. They even financed the purchase of arms for “rejectionist” groups that weren’t part of the PLO. They also funded Israeli terrorists.
Drori concluded by saying that he found it emotionally difficult to see and hear the evidence that the PLO, the PA, Arafat, his successor Mahmoud Abbas, and other senior officials “all strove toward a single goal: killing Jews and Israelis and harming Israel."
Nitza Darshan-Leitner, the attorney who represented all the plaintiffs, called the ruling “a historic victory.” “These were the first suits filed against the Palestinian Authority; they were unprecedented,” she said. “Our claim from the start was that the Palestinian Authority is a terrorist entity that promotes and encourages terror attacks, and indeed, the court found it responsible," she added.
The next step will be to determine the amount of the damages, which Shurat HaDin says could run as high as one billion shekels ($280 million). Early on in the case, at the Norzhich family’s request, the court put a lien on 64 million shekels that the Finance Ministry is holding for the PA.
Since Drori recently retired, the damages will be determined by another judge. But Drori did order the PA, the PLO and Arafat’s estate to pay 5.5 million shekels in legal costs.
The attacks covered by the suits include the murder of four members of the Gavish family – a son, both parents and a grandfather – at their home in the West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh in 2002; the murder of three members of the Dikstein family – both parents and their young son – in a shooting attack in the South Hebron Hills; and a suicide bombing at Israel’s Megiddo Junction that killed 17 people.
In addition to the suits by families of terror victims, one suit was filed by Naaman Sharqiyah, a Palestinian who was kidnapped and tortured by the PA as a suspected collaborator with Israel, and another by around 60 tour guides whose income suffered severely between 2000 and 2004 because the intifada kept tourists away.