July 13, 2004.
In what may be a landmark blow to global terror financing, a federal judge in
the US ordered the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation
Organization to pay $116m. to the family of a US citizen who was murdered in
Israel eight years ago.
In a July 12 decision, District Court Judge Ronald Lagueux of Rhode Island
upheld the findings of Magistrate David Martin, issued March 31, that the PA and
PLO provided a safe haven and operational base for Hamas to carry out the
shooting death of Yaron Ungar, an American living in the West Bank, and his
Israeli wife Efrat Ungar. The Ungars were murdered near Beit Shemesh on June 9,
1996, while driving home from a wedding. They were survived by two young sons,
Dvir and Yishai.
This case has proven that individuals can join the fight against terrorism and
that litigation can be successful against terrorist entities, the Ungars’
attorney, David Strachman, said Monday.
The case was filed in 2000 under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991, which allows
American victims of terrorist attacks overseas to seek damages in US courts, and
Strachman praised the court “for recognizing, exactly, the purpose of the
Anti-Terrorism Act, and that is to create an economic penalty for terrorism.”
The PA’s attorney, former attorney-general Ramsey Clark, was out of the country
and did not respond to a fax seeking comment, and the PLO mission to the United
Nations did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
The ruling comes one year after Lagueux ordered Hamas to pay $116m. for its part
in the Ungars’ death; while the ruling against Hamas was made after the
organization, which is outlawed in the US, repeatedly failed to respond to the
lawsuit, Mondays ruling was handed down after the PA and PLO mounted a defense
of sovereign immunity, making the suit the only contested terrorism case to go
Rejecting the PA’s defense, Lagueux wrote, in an April decision, that the PA and
PLO do not constitute a state as defined by the law of the United States and
applicable to international law because both entities lack a defined territory
with a permanent population controlled by a government that has the capacity to
enter into foreign relations.
He added that ‘Palestine’ is an amorphous entity
whose status remains a question, and that most states recognizing ‘Palestine’ as
a nation view it as a legitimate aspiration rather than an existing reality.
In Monday’s decision, Lagueux upheld Martin’s order to sanction the PA for its
deliberate actions to delay the completion of this litigation, and he demanded
that it cover nearly $12,000 of the Ungar’s legal fees. The PLO was ordered to
pay an additional $6,345 in legal fees.
While judgments in terrorism cases are generally unenforceable, as terrorist
organizations are prohibited from operating in the US and those with court
victories against state sponsors of terror have been denied access to the frozen
assets, Strachman said that the Ungars absolutely intend to collect.
“Time and time again, numerous entities have discussed the financial status of
the Palestinian Authority and the PLO,” Strachman said. “They’re not lacking for