Hamas, the Islamic terrorist organization that has waged a month-long war against Israel in the Gaza Strip, is now under legal attack in a Brooklyn courtroom.
A lawsuit by 297 Americans alleges that Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups financed 24 terror attacks in Israel between 2001 and 2004 with the help of Arab Bank, one of the largest financial institutions in the Middle East. The suit alleges the Jordan-based bank “knowingly and willfully” provided and distributed money and financial benefits to “terrorists who have killed, injured and maimed civilians” — as well as to charities controlled by Hamas — and by so doing “aided and abetted and conspired to commit said acts of international terrorism. …”
In particular, it is alleged that the bank assisted the Saudi Committee for the Support of Intifada Al Quds, which allegedly provided millions of dollars in death benefits to the families of terrorists from all different terror organizations.
“The family of [terrorist] Wafa Ali Khalil ldris was compensated for blowing up bystanders on a Jerusalem street, including four members of the Sokolow family from New York, notwithstanding her being dispatched by the PLO,” the suit said.
The suit claims that by its actions, Arab Bank has violated America’s Anti-Terrorism Act and names as plaintiffs Americans who were injured in those attacks, as well as families of those killed.
It is the first trial against an institution under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.
Filed in 2005, the case against Arab Bank began with jury selection Monday in Brooklyn Federal Court. The trial is expected to last about a month before Brooklyn Federal Judge Brian Cogan.
Among the terror attacks cited in the suit are three of the most well-known in the Hamas reign of terror during what became known as the second intifada: the Dolphinarium discotheque suicide bombing in Tel Aviv; the Sbarro pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem; and the Passover Massacre — the bombing of the crowded dining room of the Park Hotel in Netanya during the Passover seder in 2002.
“It’s our burden to prove the bank provided financial services to Hamas, its agents, leaders and operatives,” said Gary Osen, the plaintiffs’ attorney. “The bank had to have actual knowledge or willful blindness — that is, the facts are in front of you and you affirmatively refuse to see them.”
A similar suit against Arab Bank was dismissed for lack of evidence in 2012.
One reason this suit has taken so long to come to trial is that Arab Bank’s lawyers refused during pre-trial discovery to provide Osen with its bank records. Finally, District Court Judge Nina Gerson ruled that if Arab Bank continued refusing to turn over its records, it could not use them in its own defense during the trial. And she said the jury would be told it could infer the bank’s wrongdoing when it comes to considering the evidence.
In a statement, Arab Bank said it had simply “provided routine banking services in compliance with applicable counter terrorism laws and regulations, and had no intention of providing support to Hamas or any other known terrorist organization.”
Osen said this is the second trial under the Anti-Terrorism Act and the first against an institution. It is also the first time that the defendant has been represented by counsel in a trial.
He said the jury would be asked to decide if Arab Brank broke the law. If it did, Osen said the judge would then schedule a second trial — presumably with a new jury — to determine the size of the bank’s financial penalty. Under the Anti-Terrorism Act, the amount of any damages awarded the victims of terror is tripled.
It would be during that second trial that two plaintiffs would testify. One was present at the terror bombing at Mike’s Place in Tel Aviv on April 30, 2003. The other was injured at the Jerusalem bus bombing in May 18, 2003.
The 109-page suit provides graphic descriptions of each of the terrorist attacks and how those attacks killed or injured and maimed the plaintiffs. It noted that one victim, Shmuel Waldman, who was shot twice in the leg during a terrorist attack in which two women were killed, was so traumatized that he could no longer live in Israel and moved back to New Jersey.
The suit described also how several victims of terrorist attacks have had difficulty sleeping, experience nightmares and wake up screaming.
Even if the bank is convicted and fined, terrorism expert Shoshana Bryen questioned how much good it would really do. Bryen, senior director of the Jewish Policy Center, a nonprofit think tank, noted that in 2012, Standard Chartered Bank was charged with entering into a series of secret transactions that funneled more than $250 billion into Iran in violation of U.S. law.
In the end, the bank settled with the Department of Justice by agreeing to forfeit $227 million and pay a $100 million civil penalty to the Federal Reserve System. When combined with other penalties imposed by other jurisdictions, the bank paid a total of $667 million in fines and penalties.
“It settled for a miniscule amount, compared to what it allegedly transferred,” said Bryen. “What kind of confidence should we have from an American system [that does that]? Finding them guilty was nice, but so what?”
Regarding the Arab Bank case, Bryen said: “The bank is not going to be put out of business, and if you measure the fine against how much they [allegedly] made doing it…”
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, director of the Shurat-HaDin-Israel Law Center, has aggressively pressed lawsuits against Iran as the state sponsor of Hamas terrorism. To date, her clients have received a total of $120 million in compensatory damages from Iranian assets.
In the Arab Bank case, the suit alleges that the bank administered what it called a “comprehensive terrorist death and dismemberment insurance scheme by receiving, transmitting and distributing the beneﬁts in accordance with lists of families of ‘martyrs’ and others eligible for ‘coverage.’ Arab Bank actively participates in a formalized process requiring the families of so-called martyrs to obtain an official certiﬁcation of their deceased relative’s status as a bona ﬁde martyr, replete with an individualized identiﬁcation number.
“Arab Bank, in turn, is provided relatively detailed lists consisting of the names of the martyrs, personal information and details concerning the date and manner of death and other information provided to it by the Saudi Committee and representatives of the leading terrorist groups via their charitable front organizations. Arab Bank, in consultation with the Saudi Committee and local representatives of Hamas, ﬁnalizes the lists, maintains a database of persons eligible under this universal terrorist death and dismemberment insurance plan, receives the funds for the plan, and opens a dollar account for each beneﬁciary.”
The suit maintained that there was a “conspiracy between Arab Bank, the Saudi Committee and HAMAS and others … designed to provide substantial material support to Palestinian terrorist organizations and to provide a meaningful incentive both to prospective recruits and to individuals contemplating the commission of independent acts of violence in the name of the ‘popular resistance.’ Arab Bank knew, and knows, that the purpose of the conspiracy and acts taken pursuant thereto is to encourage others to engage in terrorist activities, and to support the continued commission of terrorist activities.”
The suit also cited the activities of Arab Bank’s founder, Abdul Hamid Shoman, and its present chairman, Abdul Maj eed Shoman. It claimed that in 2000, Arab Bank pledged $2 million and Shoman $500,000 to bankroll the Palestinian Authority and the second intifada.
“The Bank’s ﬁnancial and ideological support for the second intifada is a matter of public record and its participation in diligently implementing the universal terrorist death and dismemberment insurance scheme is knowing and deliberate,” the suit said. “Defendant Arab Bank knowingly, willingly and substantially assists in the recruitment of terrorists.”
The suit noted that the Saudi Committee’s support for terrorists was publicly advertised. For instance, it said that in a November 2001 edition of the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds, the Saudi Committee listed the names of more than 1,000 persons who had been hurt during the second intifada or were held in Israeli custody and invited them or their families “to go to the branches of the Arab Bank in their places of residence to receive their allocations donated by the Committee.”