By: Fern Sidman
A U.S. court has ordered the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah to pay millions of dollars in damages to a group of to a group of joint Israeli-American citizens who sued, saying they were wounded by the group’s rockets during a war with Israel in the summer of 2006, as was reported by the AP.
The case was brought under the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act and alleged that Hezbollah caused the plaintiffs physical and emotional injury and damaged their property. The AP reported that the judge ordered Hezbollah to pay damages of $111 million to the plaintiffs.
Such civil lawsuits brought against terrorist organizations are difficult to enforce, reported the AP, but Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said it was an important legal victory against the Iran-backed group.
“Only by exacting a heavy price from those who engage in the business of terrorism can we prevent the suffering and loss of additional victims to their violence,” Darshan-Leitner said in a statement, as was reported by the AP.
Israel and Hezbollah fought a month long war in 2006. Israel pounded targets in Lebanon, including the country’s international airport and other civilian infrastructure, while Hezbollah launched thousands of rockets at cities and towns in Israel’s north, according to the AP report. Israel still considers the heavily armed Shiite terror group a major threat and threatened to inflict heavy damage on Lebanon if another war erupts.
In Friday’s ruling, Judge Steven L. Tiscione of federal court in Brooklyn, New York, said the plaintiffs had successfully established that Hezbollah’s actions were a violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act and held the group liable, the AP reported.
A Hezbollah spokesman declined to comment on the judge’s ruling, the AP reported.
In November 2017, Reuters reported that Darshan-Leitner, an Orthodox Jewish mother of six is the head of the not-for-profit Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center, which has named Palestinian authorities, Iran, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and North Korea as defendants in previous lawsuits it has brought.
Reuters also reported that many of the cases were heard in U.S. courtrooms, either because victims of Palestinian shootings and bombings or Hezbollah rockets held American citizenship, or they were held there to target funds held by terrorist groups in banks in the United States.
Back in 2017, Reuters also reported that Darshan-Leitner published a book entitled, “Harpoon” in which she shed light on the role the Mossad intelligence agency has played in U.S. litigation she pursues against the international financing of those terror organizations who have pledged to destroy Israel.
The book offers detailed explanations of how Israel targets bank accounts that belong to terrorist organizations, Reuters reported. The book’s title, “Harpoon” is the codename of the Mossad finance-tracking unit that she worked with when researching the book, the report indicated.
As an attorney whose services are retained, for the most part, by private citizens, Darshan-Leitner told Reuters that subsequent to her law center initiating litigation on behalf of those who injured in Palestinian attacks during the “intifada” they launched in 2000, she received an invitation to Mossad headquarters for a consultation.
Speaking to Reuters, Darshan-Leitner said in 2017, “I explained to them what we do, how and where lawsuits are filed, what evidence and jurisdiction is required, the general rules. Their response was: What do we have to do to file more lawsuits? What do you need?”
She also told Reuters this meeting marked the beginning of regular briefings, held in quiet cafes, where she would get tip-offs about suspect finances to focus on during the U.S. courts’ discovery hearings.
Darshan-Leitner also told Reuters that her Harpoon interlocutors, have never given her documents that might betray the sources of their information: “They recited all the data from memory. It was pretty amazing,” she added.
At times, the materials were turned into formal affidavits, filed in the name of Israel’s government, said Darshan-Leitner, adding that her role in Harpoon was as an unpaid volunteer, as was reported by Reuters in 2017.
Reuters also reported that the former director of the Mossad provided praise for the book on its cover. This is the closest that the Mossad has come to a public endorsement, the report indicated.
Among cases to which she credits the cooperation of the intelligence agency to are a $655 million judgment in New York against Palestinian authorities in 2015 and the disbanding of a planned 2011 activist flotilla to Gaza, after insurers were warned that they could be criminally liable for the bid to challenge Israel’s blockade, according to the Reuters report.
In 2017, Darshan-Leitner said that around 10 percent of $2 billion worth of U.S judgments in her favor have been paid.
Reuters reported that that suggests that Israel also sees the litigation as a way to score points against its adversaries in the court of public opinion. “The struggle itself is very important, as it gives the victims a sense of vindication and puts pressure on the countries (being sued),” Darshan-Leitner said.
“Harpoon” was submitted, in accordance with Israeli law, to military censors who, Darshan-Leitner said, cut a fifth of the text to suppress some details about intelligence methods and personnel, Reuters reported.
Israel and the Jewish community worldwide have repeatedly been targeted with devastating waves of terrorism, and the present is no exception, reported Shurat HaDin on their web site.
Shurat HaDin began as one of the pioneers of directing legal action and civil lawsuits against terrorists and their sponsors, and it has become a world leader in the fight to compensate victims and stop terror funding. Shurat HaDin works with western intelligence agencies and a network of lawyers around the world to file legal actions on behalf of victims of terrorism.
The group states on their web site that, “Today, we represent hundreds of terror victims in legal actions against Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, North Korea, the Palestinian Authority, Iran and Syria. These cases seek not just to obtain compensation for injury and loss, but to present evidence of these crimes to the world, and obtain a measure of justice for innocent victims and families.”
Shurat HaDin added that, “for terrorists to operate they need money for equipment, training, weapons, personnel and more. Without money, terrorists cannot function effectively. To reach terrorists, money must flow from donors and outlaw regimes to places like Gaza, Judea and Samaria and southern Lebanon. By blocking the flow of money, we can cut off the life-line that keeps terrorist organizations alive. While government efforts to obstruct terror financing are vital, those efforts alone are not enough. Accordingly, Shurat HaDin’s legal actions serve a unique and crucial role in blocking terror funding and thus eliminating terrorists’ ability to carry out their attacks. For example, Shurat HaDin has brought claims against banks that have served terrorists, such as UBS, the Lebanese‐Canadian Bank, American Express Bank, and the Bank of China, and it also serves as a watchdog to warn and block other entities and organizations that may consider providing money or resources to benefit terrorist groups.”
In terms of providing legal challenges to the ever increasing influence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that targets Israel for complete isolation in the international community of nations, Shurat HaDin has stated, “Israel and Jewish communities around the world also continue to be confronted by an international campaign to delegitimize the Jewish State and challenge its right to exist via the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and various “lawfare” tactics to attack Israel and Israelis with baseless legal actions. Shurat HaDin has taken a lead in combatting these efforts, working to support legislation to prohibit and penalize racist and anti-Semitic boycotts, exposing organizations that fund BDS activities, filing legal challenges to unions and academic societies that seek to support and implement BDS policies, and using legal procedures to foil attempts to weaken Israel’s security, such as the Gaza Flotilla that sought to breach Israel’s legitimate coastal blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.”
In November 2018, Shurat HaDin filed a lawsuit against Airbnb in federal court in Delaware on behalf of a group of Israeli-Americans based upon the company’s decision to remove listings for properties in Israeli settlements from its online rental website. The lawsuit asked that the court enjoin Airbnb from discriminatory practices against Israel-Jewish homeowners and seeks monetary compensation for ongoing lost rental income from Airbnb pursuant to the U.S. Fair Housing Act.
In April of 2019, the New York Times reported that Airbnb announced that it had reversed its decision to remove listings of properties located in Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria.
The company provoked an uproar in Israel and a flood of litigation when it said that it would eliminate about 200 listings in Jewish settlements that are “at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” as was reported by the NYT.
Airbnb’s 2019 announcement came after it settled four lawsuits filed against it in the United States and Israel. According to a statement from the company, Airbnb will allow listings throughout Judea and Samaria but will donate all profits from its business in the region.
The NYT reported that an Airbnb spokesman said the chosen humanitarian nonprofit organizations would not be related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In August of this year, a report on the web site of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists indicated “families of Americans killed, injured and held hostage by terrorist groups in the Middle East sued Swedish telecom giant Ericsson, accusing the company of funneling protection payments to al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, and the Islamic State that funded the groups’ attacks on American troops.”
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., said the company formally known as Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and a U.S. subsidiary allegedly routed funds through its local Iraqi telecom partners, Asiacell and Korek, to pay terrorist groups that waged attacks on Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, the ICIJ.com site reported.
“While Americans were risking their lives between 2005 and 2021 to help rebuild Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, LM Ericsson and Ericsson Inc. facilitated illicit Iraq-related transactions that they knew terrorists such as ISIS used to finance attacks,” said Ryan Sparacino, partner of the Washington-based law firm Sparacino PLLC.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists also reported that according to the lawsuit, Ericsson violated U.S. anti-terrorism laws and deployed a network of consultants, subcontractors, partners and slush funds to transfer payments to terrorist agents, while ISIS was waging a violent campaign against U.S. forces and their allies.
In April of this year, Bloomberg News reported that the question of whether companies can be held liable for even indirectly doing business with terrorists has been answered differently from court to court, despite Congress’s efforts to spell out terror victims’ right to sue.
Bloomberg also reported that a case known as Levin v. Wells Fargo leans on the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act, which says that a person who wins a judgment against a terrorist state or entity can be compensated from funds that a bank has blocked and frozen (as required by law) because they were linked to the same terrorist group.
In Atchley v. AstraZeneca, Bloomberg News reported that American civilians and service members who were wounded by terrorist attacks in Iraq are suing 21 drug and device companies that they accuse of selling medicine and supplies and engaging in bribes and other corrupt transactions with the country’s health ministry, which was controlled by the same Hezbollah-linked terror group that allegedly harmed them.
Back in April, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the Wells Fargo case and could affirm a prior opinion holding that the party that originates an electronic funds transfer has an “interest” in the funds, Bloomberg News reported. That would mean that victims harmed by that originator have a claim to that money. If the D.C. court upholds its position, it would establish a clear circuit split on the issue, making it more likely that the case could also get before the Supreme Court, the reported indicated.
(Sources: Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg News, the New York Times and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists)