Backing Palestinians, U.S. Supreme Court Rejects $656-million Award to Jerusalem Terror Victims

Court chooses to leave earlier verdict in place saying that PLO and PA don't have sufficient connection to U.S. to be sued under American law

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he welcomes Bulgarian President Rumen Radev in Ramallah, West Bank, March 22, 2018.
\ MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal Monday demanding that the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority pay $656 million to American victims of terror attacks.

The court chose to leave in place an earlier verdict by a lower court, which said that the PLO and the PA lack a sufficient connection to the United States in order to be sued under American anti-terrorism laws. The Trump administration, through the Justice Department, sided with the opinion of the appeals court. Lead plaintiff Mark Sokolow, his wife and their two daughters were injured in a 2002 suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

If the Supreme Court had made the opposite decision, the PA and PLO could have plunged into an economic crisis, which would come on top of the recent legislation approved by the U.S. Congress to severely cut the budget being given the PA because of its financial support for convicted terrorists who are sitting in Israeli prisons. Fear of such a crisis is one of the reasons that previous U.S. administrations did not, over the years, support similar lawsuits to the one rejected on Monday.

The appeal rejected on Monday was filed on behalf of the families of six American victims of bombing and shooting attacks that happened in the vicinity of Jerusalem during the second Intifada. The families won compensation to the sum of $656 million in 2015, when a federal jury in Manhattan said they were entitled to such compensation from the PA under the Anti-Terrorism Act. That verdict, however, was overturned by an appeals court a year later, and today the Supreme Court refused to reinstate it. 

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the appeals court decision "eviscerates the Anti-Terrorism Act" by severely limiting what cases can be heard in U.S. courts. They argued that Congress wrote the law specifically to apply to attacks that took place outside the United States in which U.S. citizens were injured or killed, whether or not Americans were specifically targeted.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the president of Shurat Hadin, an organization involved in the legal struggle, called the Supreme Court's decision "outrageous" and a "horrible travesty."

 “The families are gravely disappointed by the Supreme Court decision to uphold the dismissal of the jury verdict. The lawyers and families invested thousands of hours and went through the emotional tribulations of reliving the attacks," she said.

"It’s outrageous that the murderous  Palestinian Authority is allowed to kill innocent civilians and not have to pay any cost. This is a horrible travesty of justice for the families and we will not let it stand. We will continue to pursue the Palestinians for these victims,” she added.

In a separate case on a similar theme, the Supreme Court in February blocked a group of Americans injured in a 1997 suicide bombing in Jerusalem from seizing ancient Persian artifacts from a Chicago museum to satisfy a $71.5 million court judgment against Iran, which they had accused of complicity in the attack.

The Supreme Court in another case is weighing whether Jordan-based Arab Bank Plc can be sued over legal claims that it helped finance militant attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories. A ruling is due by the end of June.

Reuters contributed to this report