As we know from the news, on Monday the families of some of the victims of six terror attacks in Jerusalem a decade or so ago won a big judgment against the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority.
Did we say big? Sometimes understatement is gratifying. The judgment, ordered by a Brooklyn jury, was for more than $218 million; the anti-terrorism act most likely will cause that amount to be tripled. That would be about $655 million.
That is an amount of money – actually an amount of anything – that most of us can neither visualize nor imagine. (Although, strikingly, it is less than the $1.3 billion Gov. Chris Christie has not paid into the state’s pension fund. But we digress.)
First, and overwhelmingly obviously, money, not even millions of dollars, is worth the price each family had to pay. Money is not a replacement for love; it cannot replace the nightmares survivors have about how the people they loved were slaughtered.
But still it is a lot of money – an amount that the families are unlikely ever to see, at least before the infants among them die of old age.
And yet, Stephen Flatow of West Orange tells us, it is a step – maybe a baby step, but still a tiny motion in the right direction.
Mr. Flatow’s daughter, Alisa, was murdered in a bus bombing 20 years ago, when she was 20. Since then, he has become a strong advocate for families affected by terrorism, and he has forged a path through the often suffocating thick weeds in our judicial system, thwacking them out of the way as he tackled and subdued such issues as jurisdiction and political convenience.
The jury award is important because “in the early 21st century, the plaintiffs alleged that the terrorists were either financially or materially supported by the Palestinian Authority of the PLO,” Mr. Flatow said. Although the PLO (which is, Mr. Flatow said, “an umbrella name for a bunch of terrorist groups operating under its wings, including Fatah, which is Abu Mazen,” and of course Abu Mazen is the nom de guerre of Mahmoud Abbas, esteemed president of the Palestinian Authority) – denied that claim, “the jury apparently agreed with the plaintiffs,” Mr. Flatow said.
Mr. Flatow was at the beginning of the chain that stretched from the Iranian government’s financing of the bomb that killed his daughter through a large penalty the Iranian government owes but is unlikely to pay him to the huge penalty a Manhattan jury assessed against BNP Paribas last summer.
“The reason that someone brings a lawsuit like this one against the PLO and the PA is similar to my reason,” he said. “It is to take these people out of the terrorism business. If this verdict stands, and if they collect it somehow, it would give the PLO pause before it continues to provide any support to groups under its wing who might be considering any further terrorist attacks.”
It will not be easy. “The next step is to collect on their claims. You identify the assets that you can reach here in the country. That is where the fun will start,” he said. “I would turn to my senators and congressmen and say hey, the United States of America gives the PA $400 million in aid. Take it out of that money right now! But everything is politics.”
The case against the PLO and the PA should be a bit easier than his case against Iran, though, he said, because the Iranians claimed sovereign immunity and the sanctity of foreign government assets. Because Palestine is not a sovereign state, that claim may be harder to make. (Keep in mind that Mr. Flatow is a lawyer.)
We are not lawyers. We understand that there are very good diplomatic reasons to maintain the sanctity of foreign government assets and not monkey with other states’ sovereign immunity. All that is very sauce-for-goose-sauce-for-gander.
But we also understand the need to fight the radical evil of bombing buses, stoning infants, shelling civilians, kidnapping and shooting teenagers, and all the other barbaric ways of killing people the PLO’s associates have dreamed up. (And that, of course, pales by comparison with ISIS’s methods, but we will not go there. We can’t even.) We understand parents’ grief at the death – the willful, planned death – of their children.
We applaud the jury, we hope that somehow the momentum in the case continues and carries through to real victory, we stand in open-mouthed awe at Mr. Flatow’s strength, resolve, and unmistakable goodness, and more than anything we hope that no family members ever again will have to pursue foreign governments to avenge the murder of their children.