Justices Weigh Rights of Victims of Palestinian Terror in U.S. Courts


A case now being considered by the Supreme Court could impact the ability of victims of Palestinian terror attacks to bring suits against those accused of financing such acts.

Jesner v. Arab Bank pits a group of families who were injured in attacks in Israel between 1995 and 2005, mostly at the hands of Hamas, against Jordan’s Arab Bank, which they say was used to fund attacks and provide financing for “martyrdom” payments.

The Justices are not considering the merits of the actual case, but, rather, whether the issue belongs in U.S. courts at all. The case centers around the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a 1789 law that allows foreigners to bring suits in the U.S. if the action was “committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States,” which in modern terms has been interpreted to mean any violation of international law. Plaintiffs claim that financing for Hamas and other groups was transferred through the Arab Bank’s New York branch, which they argue creates enough of a U.S. interest to bring the case in U.S. courts.

Mr. Meir Katz, a Baltimore-based attorney, has been arguing a similar case against the Canadian Lebanese Bank.

It has been put on hold pending the outcome of the Jesner case.

“It could have very significant ramifications,” Mr. Katz told Hamodia. “I don’t think it would open a floodgate of new cases and tie up courts, which is what the bank is arguing, but there are between 10 and 20 cases like this pending, which are now stuck. This could rehabilitate them.”

An additional point of controversy, which has taken a central role in the present case, is whether the ATS applies to corporations or only to individuals. During oral arguments, the Justices did not tip their hand, critically questioning why the law would not include businesses equally as well as whether the case had enough U.S. involvement to merit being brought under the ATS.

Another key point addressed, which has been a subject of dispute in other cases dealing with the statute, is whether such cases would have negative diplomatic consequences.

Mr. Katz said that nearly all federal courts have allowed corporations to be sued under the ATS, with the exception of New York’s Second Circuit.

“Even if it’s only one court, it still makes a big difference, since so much of the financial transactions that terrorism cases are based on pass through New York City,” he said. “The ATS was an act of Congress to give aliens a path to legal redress in the U.S. The notion that corporations should be exempt from that is a legal fiction.”

A decision is expected this coming spring.