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The Palestinian Authority: Sokolow V. The Palestinian Authority

The case of Sokolow V. The Palestinian Authority was brought in 2004 by U.S. citizens who are relatives of individuals killed or injured by terror attacks in Israel between 2001 and 2004. The 10 families sued the Palestinian Authority for the deaths and injuries of their loved ones, as well as psychological trauma, demanding more than $1 billion in monetary compensation.

According to the complaint, the perpetrators of these attacks were on the payroll of, and received support from the Palestinian Authority and/or the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The families of the terrorists received payments that allegedly came from the Palestinian Authority following the attacks.

The case took ten years to go to trial, and after a summary trial request by the Palestinian Authority was rejected, opening statements were presented on January 12, 2015. The plaintiffs’ legal team argued that the Palestinian Authority and the PLO had full knowledge of, and were complicit in, six shootings and bombings between 2001 and 2004 that killed 33 and injured more than 400 people. Throughout the trial the plaintiffs attempted to demonstrate that the individuals who carried out the attacks were on the payroll of the Palestinian Authority, and that records showed the terrorists and their families were rewarded handsomely for their actions. The legal representatives for the Palestinian Authority argued that their clients had nothing to do with the attacks, but a preponderance of evidence was presented to the contrary. Emotional testimony from survivors and family members of victims filled the courtroom for seven weeks and, on February 23, 2015, the Manhattan jury found the Palestinian Authority and the PLO responsible for supporting the terror attacks and the attackers’ families. The jury awarded the plaintiffs $218.5 million, which was tripled to $655.5 million under an anti-terrorism law that provides for the tripling of funds awarded to American victims of terror attacks.

The Palestinian Authority announced that they would appeal the verdict, and were told in August 2015 to pay $10 million to the victims’ families in cash or bond prior to the appeal. The  Obama administration opposed the lawsuit and tried to have the amount of the bond reduced out of concern that the size of the bond could affect the Palestinian Authority’s governing capacity, and impede its ability to function properly.  Administration officials asked the judge to “carefully consider” the Palestinian Authority’s financial situation, ignoring the fact that the PA has received billions of dollars in aid and that, even as it pleads poverty, the PA continues to find money to pay the families of Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel. 

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan overturned the verdict and dismissed the lawsuit on August 31, 2016, citing the lack of the U.S. Federal Court's overseas jurisdiction in civil cases.  The plaintiffs in the case appealed this ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected their appeal in April 2018.  

Source: Frankel, Allison. “The Palestinian Authority faces a big terror trial. Will the State Dept. help?,” Reuters (November 20, 2014);
“Terror Victims Take Palestinian Authority to Court,” Investigative Project on Terrorism, (January 12, 2015);
Weiser, Benjamin. “Palestinian Groups Are Found Liable at Manhattan Terror Trial,” New York Times (February 23, 2015);
“U.S. judge says Palestinian Authority must post bond in terrorism case,” Reuters (August 24, 2015);
Greg Stohr.  U.S. Supreme Court Won't Make PLO Pay $656 Million Terror Award, Bloomberg (April 2, 2018).