WASHINGTON, March 14 (JTA) — The family of a Jewish couple killed in Israel in 1996 by Palestinian terrorists have filed a $250 million federal lawsuit against the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat, the PLO and the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas.
The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Providence, R.I., on Monday claims that Palestinian officials were responsible for the drive-by shooting of Yaron and Efrat Ungar, Americans who lived in the West Bank, because they allowed Hamas to operate training facilities and store weapons in Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Four members of Hamas were convicted of the crime and are now in jail in Israel; one remains at-large. They, along with the commander and co-commander of the Palestinian General Intelligence Services, and the Palestinian police chief, also were named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit blames the Palestinian authorities for refusing or ignoring American and Israeli demands to prevent further terrorism. The lawsuit further alleges that Palestinian officials provided Hamas with a “safe haven and a base of operations” and permitted and or encouraged Hamas to “operate freely and conduct activities in the territory under their control.”
Despite repeated requests by the Israeli government, the Palestinians refused to surrender terrorist suspects and even employed some suspects as policemen or security officials, according to the plaintiffs, which include the couple’s two children, aged 4 and 5.
In addition the Palestinians’ financial support to the families of Hamas terrorists who had been captured or killed while carrying out terrorist acts is an incentive to continue violence and terrorism, according to the lawsuit.
Khalil Foutah, a spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization in Washington, had no comment on the case.
The lawsuit is based on a statute that gives federal courts jurisdiction over cases of American citizens who are injured in foreign countries by acts of terrorism. Survivors or heirs of the victim may sue in any U.S. District Court.
Congress enacted the law after victims of the 1985 PLO hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship had difficulty with their civil suits.
Should the Ungar family win the case, whatever judgment they are awarded may be difficult to claim.
A similar lawsuit was brought against Iran by the family of Alisa Flatow, a 20-year-old New Jersey student who was killed in a bus bombing in 1995. The Flatows won a $247.5 million judgment, but have not been able to collect any damages, in part because of opposition from the Clinton administration.
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee recently endorsed legislation that allows American victims of terrorism to collect court judgments through the seizure of frozen assets of countries that support terror.
But the Justice for Victims of Terrorists Act faces opposition from the Clinton administration, which has claimed the law could result in retaliation against U.S. diplomatic properties abroad.