January 21, 2019

Jurors seated in civil trial over PLO role in Israeli attacks

Victims of attacks in Israel more than a decade ago will look to prove the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority were behind the violence and should pay up to $1 billion, after jurors were selected Tuesday in a civil trial. Six men and six women will consider whether to hold the defendants responsible for seven shootings and bombings from 2001 to 2004 in the Jerusalem area that killed 33 people and wounded more than 450.

The trial before U.S. District Judge George Daniels in Manhattan is expected to last 12 weeks, and adds a new dimension to the long-running Middle East conflict.

Victims and their families claim that the defendants helped carry out and finance the attacks, in part through support for Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which the U.S. government has labeled terrorist organizations.

The plaintiffs said this was done to coerce Israeli civilians, and the Israeli and U.S. governments, into accepting the Palestinians' political goals. Damages could be tripled to $3 billion if the plaintiffs prevail.

Both defendants have denied the claims, in which they are accused of violating the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act. Any award may be subject to appeals.

Among the jurors is a watchmaker, a fourth-grade school teacher, a man who works as a school aide during the day and a custodian at night, and an actor who takes what he called “survival jobs” while freelancing at a sports website.

Eighteen prospective jurors had been questioned. The two who told Daniels they have traveled to Israel were excused.

The lead plaintiff is Mark Sokolow, a lawyer at Arnold & Porter, who said he and family members were injured in a January 2002 bombing in downtown Jerusalem that killed one person and injured more than 150.

The trial is beginning less than a week after the United Nations confirmed that Palestinians will formally join the International Criminal Court on April 1. That decision clears the way for that body to potentially open probes into alleged Israeli crimes on Palestinian lands.

Palestinians wish to form a state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, lands Israelcaptured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Last September, a federal jury in Brooklyn found Arab Bank Plc liable under the anti-terrorism law for having provided material support to Hamas. A damages trial is scheduled to begin on May 18.

The case is Sokolow v. Palestine Liberation Organization et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 04-00397.