Prejudicial Trial, Prejudicial Verdict: $218 Million
Update: On Feb 23 the jury found the PA and PLO liable for terror attacks in Israel. Michael Ratner argues the odds were stacked against the Palestine Liberation Organization(PLO) and Palestinian Authority(PA)
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. Also, welcome to the Michael Ratner report.
The Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization have gone on trial in the U.S., accused of helping to carry out a series of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and the surrounding area between 2002 and 2004. The PA and the PLO have denied their involvement and their responsibility and have argued that the U.S. has no jurisdiction over them.
Now joining us to discuss all of this is Michael Ratner. Michael is the President emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. He’s also the chair of the Berlin-based International Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He’s also a board member of The Real News Network.
Michael, as always, many of our viewers look forward to your report. So thank you for joining us.
MICHAEL RATNER, PRESIDENT EMERITUS, CENTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS: It’s good to be with you, Sharmini, and good to be with The Real News.
PERIES: So, Michael, explain to us this case against the PLO and the PA in the United States.
RATNER: It’s a really important case, unfortunately. And, of course, it’s broadened what I consider to be the power behind the colonial power of Israel. And so its courts are quite favorable to Israel. Imagine bringing a case for damages against the African National Congress in South Africa during apartheid. Imagine bringing a case against the liberation movement of Algeria in Paris during the war for liberation of Algeria. Well, that’s the equivalent of what you have in bringing a case against the Palestinian Authority, which is what this case is against, in the courts of the United States.
And what the case is about is a series of killings that took place 2002 to 2007. Approximately seven of them, seven incidents, in which 33 people were killed and scores were injured, and the Palestinians, Palestinian Authority, is being sued by the victims and survivors of those killings.
The case has been pending for a dozen years. It’s been going up and down on various legal issues, some of which I’ll mention. But it finally is coming to trial. And we should do this with the understanding that this is one of many cases in which Palestinians find themselves either sued, or in which people go after them, or in which their efforts to get justice–or, for example, the thousands killed in Gaza or the hundreds of thousands illegally moved into the occupied territories–their efforts to get justice against those causes come to complete failure in the courts. What you have is a worldwide justice system, so far, at least particularly in the United States and in Israel, that basically gives a blank check to whatever Israel wants to do against the Palestinians and whatever Israel wants to do in the courts, or its allies against the Palestinians.
Back to this case. It’s pending a couple of miles from my house in what’s called the Southern District of New York. It’s the federal court in New York. It was initiated by an NGO in Israel called Shurat HaDin, which is essentially, in my view, opinion, a propaganda arm for Zionism, and particularly for Israel, and brings these cases all over the place, without necessarily expectations of winning, although in this case we’ll see what happens.
The case claims that the Palestinian Authority, which is the Palestinian state, was behind the series of attacks in 2000 to 2007. They sued for–they are being sued, the Palestinian Authority, for $1 billion, and they’re being sued under a special law, the 1991 Antiterrorism Act, that allows people who are citizens of the United States to sue for acts of international terrorism against U.S. citizens outside the United States. You can say that one of the primary reasons that law was passed was so that people, Israelis and U.S. citizens living in Israel who were killed in the ongoing wars in Israel, could somehow sue the Palestinians or the Palestinian state. And that’s exactly what happened here.
Prior to the trial starting, which has been going on now for more than a month, the Palestinian Authority claimed that there was no jurisdiction in the U.S. court to try it. They said, how can you do this? It all happened overseas. The Palestinian Authority is in Ramallah. We don’t have offices of any sort in the United States. To the extent we have a UN office, that doesn’t count for jurisdiction. But, of course, as you would expect in a U.S. court, the Palestinian Authority lost on that issue.
The second and more important issue–again showing the bias and prejudice of our courts–that the Palestinian Authority raised was immunity. Let me give you an example. If I go sue Haiti, if I go sue France in the United States, they immediately say, we’re a state, and we’re immune from lawsuits in the United States, because states are immune under a law in the United States called the immunities act, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act.
On the other hand, look at what happened here. The Palestinian Authority is sued, and, of course, 134 countries out of 193 consider Palestine to be a state. It’s been recognized by the UN to be a state. It signs international agreements as a state, including the International Criminal Court agreement as a state. And yet the United States courts refuse to apply the immunity law, saying Palestine Authority, the Palestinian state, cannot be sued.
And so they went to court, the Palestinian Authority, saying, you can’t sue us. Of course what happened: the court said, you aren’t really a state under our–in the United States’s eyes, and therefore you’re allowed to be sued in a U.S. court. Of course, the president could come in, the State Department, and say, we would like Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian state, given immunity, but the president hasn’t done that.
So the case is now at the trial stage. The plaintiffs in the case, who were the victims and survivors, are claiming that the Palestinian state, the Palestinian Authority, is responsible for these killings, responsible because it was the policy of the Palestinian Authority to carry these out or it was the standard operating procedure to carry them out. The defense is saying, with these acts, we don’t think these acts are great. We don’t like them. We condemn the acts of killing civilians. But it wasn’t the Palestinian Authority or Palestinian state that did them. We’re not defending them, but you can’t hold the Palestinian Authority responsible.
And how is the other plate is going to sue their–going to improve their case? Well, when there was an invasion, one of the Israeli invasions into the West Bank, they went into Ramallah, the capital of the West Bank, capital of Palestine, and they took hundreds of thousands of documents. And the plaintiffs claim those documents prove that the Palestinian Authority is behind these killings. In fact, when Human Rights Watch examined those documents, they said there was not proof in those documents that could say that the Palestinian Authority was responsible for what happened to the victims and their survivors. So I think the proof is going to be very, very thin. It’s going to be a real stretch for the plaintiffs to connect this case to the higher-ups in the Palestinian Authority.
That’s not saying what a jury will do in the United States. This is a country in which the juries are very propagandized. The people are very propagandized by a good and the bad. The good is Israel. The bad is the Muslims, the Palestinians, etc.
In any case, it’s now in the U.S. court on that issue.
The judge has made some bad rulings. The first bad ruling is pretty remarkable. One of the claims of the plaintiffs is that the Palestinian Authority, through some entities, is giving money or has given money to the families of people who’ve been imprisoned for various–having been convicted of various acts in Israel against Israelis, or in this case against U.S. citizens. And the giving of money to those families implicates somehow the Palestinian Authority in the acts of killing.
Well, the first thing the lawyers for the defendants said for the Palestinian Authority is these people were convicted by the Israeli defense forces courts, by military courts, in an occupied territory. How can you give validity to those convictions? The court–of course, U.S. court–said, we’re giving validity to those convictions. So that’s the first thing. So they’re getting that ruling so that giving of money to them can be taken into consideration by the jury in seeing is the Palestinian this authority responsible.
The second fact–and it’s important–is the–what I would say: it’s not just the political, but the emotional appeal of this case to a jury. According to some people–I’m not sure how accurate, but many of the jurors, some of the jurors were seen leaving the courtroom crying after the testimony of the survivors. One of the survivors said she was a child of six, six siblings, her father was killed, etc., and then [cried (?)], etc. So, of course, it’s very emotional. It’s terrible. But should be it be tried in basically what I consider colonial U.S. occupation court, or at least the court that’s behind the colonial occupation court in Palestine? I don’t think so. So it’s not going to be a very fair jury, a very fair verdict in this case.
The defense, obviously, that there was no policy by the PA, the Palestinian state, no standard operating procedure to do this, these were done by independent people outside of that, and therefore the Palestinian state is not liable.
I would still be surprised if the U.S. court doesn’t find the Palestinian Authority guilty in this case, or at least liable for these damages. Let’s hope they don’t, because the evidence doesn’t seem to be there. We’ll know within a couple of weeks.
Let me just say it’s a case for $1 billion, and it’s tripled under this special antiterrorism law. It could be $3 billion. I don’t think it’s going to be easy to collect any money, the Palestinian Authority has any assets here. But on the other hand, as people know, some parts of the Palestinian Authority are funded through various receipts from organizations in the world, and who knows what will happen if there’s a judgment against them like this. I don’t know. But let’s hope there’s not a verdict.
I want to just say, as I close this, let’s put this into context, not just the context of the occupation, of the West Bank occupation, of the moving of people there, of the three Gaza wars in the last decade, but the context of what’s happened in legal cases over the last decade against Palestine and in favor of Israel. You had when this week on The Real News you reported on the Rachel Corrie case, bulldozing, a killing of a young woman who was trying to stop a house demolition–clearly a case that should have gone to trial.
Palestine–or the Israeli Supreme Court says no, that essentially the laws of war don’t apply to these cases. They’re immune from going to trial on those, essentially giving the Israeli Defense Forces a blank check to do whatever they want, which they’ve been doing pretty well right along, but here’s the highest court in Israel making that blank check even blanker.
What we should end on is this context. We’ve had three Gaza wars. We have a n apartheid system in Israel. We have the transfer of half a million people illegally under the Geneva Conventions to occupied territories. We have the Commission of Crimes Against Humanity against Palestinians. And then what we have in the face of that is the refusal to find, have a trial for the killing of Rachel Corrie. And now we see this charade in the United States court of so-called terrorism trial against the state of Palestine.
As I said, imagine if this case were going on, an African National Congress, a congress case, case against the African National Congress going on in South Africa during apartheid, a case against French–a case in Paris against the Algerian liberation fighters in Paris during that war. Imagine the fairness of those systems. That’s what you have in terms of this case going on in the United States. And in general there’s no justice for Palestinians within Israel, and there’s no justice for Palestinians in the United States courts.
PERIES: Michael Ratner, with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.
Thank you so much for joining us, Michael.
RATNER: Thank you for having me on The Real News.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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