American families whose loved ones were killed in terror attacks during the second intifada have praised legislation that empowers Americans to sue foreign aid recipients in US courts over alleged complicity in "acts of war.”
The law, which went into effect last Thursday, led the Palestinian Authority to decline some $60 million in annual funding earmarked for security purposes, potentially undermining security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank, over concerns it could be exposed to US anti-terrorism lawsuits.
The Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump back in October and later approved by the US Congress, enables American authorities to seize assets from any foreign “terrorist entity” that receives financial aid from the US government. In addition, under the law any US citizen could sue the PA for involvement in terror activity and be compensated by the money earmarked for PA financial aid.
The legislation was initiated by a group of US citizens who filed a lawsuit against the PA in 2004 for its involvement in the terror attacks during the second intifada, when Yasser Arafat was still at the helm of the Palestinian government. Among the plaintiffs were the families of victims of a terrorist attack at the Mount Scopus campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2002, as well as families of victims of a suicide bombing outside a Jerusalem clothing store on King George Street the same year.
Larry Carter, whose daughter Dina Carter was murdered in the Hebrew University attack, praised the new legislation. "It took the Americans so much time to reach justice, while the families continued to grieve the loss of their loved ones in these terror attacks,” he said.
Diplomatic sources told Reuters that Palestinian, US and Israeli officials are looking for ways to keep the money flowing despite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's decision to turn down the security aid.
But the Carters, like many other families who lost their loved ones in Palestinian terror attacks during the second intifada, hope there will be no amendments made to the law to allow the PA to continue receiving US security aid.
The initial lawsuit was submitted to the US Federal Court by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israeli civil-rights NGO Shurat Hadin. The trial lasted for over 10 years, and in 2015 the court ordered the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization to pay $655 million in compensations to ten bereaved families.
A year later, after multiple appeals by the PA—which were backed by former President Barack Obama—the court decided to overturn the ruling, prompting Shurat HaDin and the families to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. The appeal was backed by several American elected officials, which resulted in the law being amended once again.
Catherine Baker, whose son Benjamin Blutstein was also murdered in the Hebrew University suicide bombing, thanked Congress for passing the law and “not succumbing to pressure," adding that this legislation “is of paramount importance and places the responsibility for harming US citizens on Palestinian terrorists."
"The US State Department should stand by the victims who were slaughtered at the Hebrew University and not by those who carried out the attack,” said Shurat HaDin’s Darshan-Leitner. “The PA lost the trial, was found responsible for the murders and now has to pay the damages. Otherwise, the American government would become a sham."
Reuters contributed to this report.