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Adv. Benjamin Leventhal
Israeli, PA courts duke it out over damages case
Jerusalem, Ramallah courts embroiled in rare judicial duel whose results may set far-reaching legal precedent regarding matters of jurisdiction
An Israeli court is poised to overturn a damages verdict given by a court of a lower instance, which awarded millions to a plaintiff, after one of the witnesses involved in the case was convicted of perjury by a Palestinian court, Ynetnews learned Wednesday.


This unusual overlap between the Israeli and Palestinian legal systems presents several complex questions, most notably how a perjury conviction attained in PA jurisdiction may affect proceedings held in Israel.


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Attorney Benjamin Leventhal, who is arguing the case before the Jerusalem District Court, is seeking to have the original ruling overturned, on the grounds that the testimony on which it rests must be debunked following the perjury conviction, as it undermines the witness's credibility.


The case in question is a civil one, and involves a key witness whose testimony was crucial to a 2007 insurance damages case. The Israeli court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and the verdict was ratified on appeal by the Supreme Court.


In 2012, however, the same witness was found guilty of perjury in criminal proceedings held in a Palestinian court in Ramallah. The Palestinian appellate court later ratified the conviction.


According to Leventhal, it is now up to the Israeli court to decide whether a Palestinian perjury conviction constitutes new evidence, which in turn could warrant overturning the original judgment rendered in favor of the plaintiff.


Question of jurisdiction

Leventhal said that the case provides a unique glimpse into the workings of two separate legal systems, which rarely interact. The ruling – whatever it may be – is therefore likely to set a legal precedence.


The future ruling is also likely to carry far-reaching implications that stretch beyond the narrow scope of the case in question: Leventhal explained that should an Israeli court deem a ruling by a Palestinian court legally binding, it would be a de facto validation of Palestinian legal decisions by Israel.


Moreover, it would state a judicial preference of a Palestinian court’s opinions over that of an Israeli one's in a civil matter.


On the other hand, should the Israeli court deny the insurance company’s motion, regardless of the merits, it would send a different message, essentially questioning the Palestinian court's authority in the West Bank.


Such a ruling is likely to come under criticism claiming that an Israeli court is willing to overlook a criminal conviction simply because it was rendered by a Palestinian one – a potentialy strident chord given the fact that if a similar ruling was made by a US or EU court, the Israeli court would most likely not question it.


"This is indeed a real test for the halls of justice in Israel," Leventhal said.


"Our views of the Palestinian legal system should go beyond politics, or – heaven forbid – bias. We cannot allow judgments based on perjury to stand, regardless of which legal system was used to establish the perjury. Once there is such a conviction it must be treated accordingly.


"Just as the Israeli court enforces other Palestinian-derived legal writs it should consider this criminal judgment as concrete and reliable evidence." 


Leventhal, who serves as a partner at Gideon Fisher & Co, added that "The case must be reopened justice must be done, notwithstanding the earlier court’s impressions based on what can now be classified as false testimony. We believe that ultimately, justice will carry the day."



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