Are Banks Responsible for Funding Hamas — and Enabling Terror?

Victims May Have To Relive Wrenching Attacks in Twin Suits

Terror in Tel Aviv: In 2003 two suicide bombers entered Mike’s Place, a popular ex-pat hangout in Tel Aviv. Three people were killed and 50 were injured.
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Terror in Tel Aviv: In 2003 two suicide bombers entered Mike’s Place, a popular ex-pat hangout in Tel Aviv. Three people were killed and 50 were injured.

By Nathan Guttman

Published July 19, 2013, issue of July 26, 2013.
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Officials from the Arab Bank declined to respond on-the-record to the suit’s allegations. But speaking on background, an official for the bank voiced confidence that the financial institution would not be found liable for its handling of the money that allegedly ended up with Hamas.

At trial, the key question will be whether the Arab Bank knowingly provided its services in a way that helped terrorists or, as the bank has argued, whether the relevant transactions were routine and lawful.

The New York court’s April 24 decision to send the case to trial, which rejected most of the bank’s arguments for dismissal, was seen as a victory for the terror victim plaintiffs. But in a separate case, another New York federal judge gave the Arab Bank a boost last November when he dismissed a suit by an Israeli who had been injured in a terror attack. In that ruling, Judge Jack Weinstein said the evidence presented “does not prove that the Bank acted with an improper state of mind or proximately caused plaintiff’s injury.”

It’s a point the Arab Bank hopes will be repeated in the current case.

“Terrorists are energized by the support they receive,” argued David Rubin, one of the victims suing the bank. Rubin was on his way home in December 2001 when terrorists ambushed his car on a West Bank road. Rubin was shot in his leg, and his young son, strapped to a car seat in the back, was hit in his skull by a bullet. Father and son underwent surgery and lengthy hospitalizations. Rubin’s son also required therapy to overcome mental trauma.

“We could very easily be dead,” said Rubin, who moved to Israel from the United States 21 years ago. In joining the lawsuit against the Arab Bank, Rubin said, he hopes justice will be served. “Those who are involved in aiding and abetting terror attacks should be held accountable,” he said.

The trial will be held in two separate phases. The first will deal with American plaintiffs, such as Rubin, Faudem and more than 500 other citizens of the United States who were killed or injured in 24 terror attacks. This part of the trial will determine whether the Arab Bank provided material support to Hamas, thus allegedly breaking the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1996. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, a separate discussion will determine the process of awarding them damages.

The second phase, which now seems somewhat shakier than the first, will involve 6,000 Israelis and other foreign nationals who are not American citizens. The evidence is expected to be similar and will be based on testimonies of the victims and documents demonstrating the Arab Bank’s transactions. But the legal basis for the non-American plaintiffs’ claim will be different. This case will go after the Arab Bank based on the Alien Tort Statute, which allows, under certain circumstances, for foreigners to sue non-American entities in American courts. This statute, dating back to 1789, has become an important tool in going after human rights abusers and war criminals. It was also used as part of Holocaust restitution lawsuits.

But in April, the Supreme Court ruled that only foreign entities linked to American territory could be sued under the Alien Tort Statute. This closed the door on attempts to use American courts as a venue for pursuing human rights cases between non-American parties.

Citing this ruling, the Arab Bank petitioned the Supreme Court on June 24, asking it to dismiss the portion of the lawsuit based on the Alien Tort Statute.

The record of similar lawsuits against alleged funders of terrorists, most notably a lawsuit against Saudi Arabia filed by families of 9/11 victims, indicates that the legal road is long and that success is far from guaranteed. “I know these things take a very long time, but I want to see justice done,” Rubin said. “I’m not in this for the money.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter, @nathanguttman


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