CHICAGO (Dec. 8)
Leaders of Chicago’s Jewish community are optimistic that a jury award of $156 million to an Israeli-American family whose son was killed in the West Bank will send a stern message that financial support of terrorist organizations won’t be tolerated. A jury ruled Wednesday in a Chicago federal courthouse that three Chicago-based Islamic organizations and one individual must pay the Boim family $156 million in damages for the 1996 murder of their son David, 17.
The jury found the Quranic Literacy Institute guilty. U.S. Magistrate Arlander Keys previously had found the other three parties — the Islamic Association for Palestine, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, and an individual named Muhammad Salah — liable.
“I think the precedent is enormous,” said Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. “I think if nothing else, any other organizations that are doing this thing hopefully will stop altogether. If not, they will be a lot more careful.”
“We are certain that many of the donors to these organizations had no intent that their dollars would be used this way. But now we have had a ruling by a federal judge that says unequivocally that these are Hamas supporters,” Kotzin said. “We’re fighting a war against terrorism, and one of the ways to fight it is to dry up a source of funds, to be ready to identify the supporters, and that has happened.”
Attorney Minda Block, the local Jewish Community Relations Council’s domestic affairs associate, noted that the case marked the first time the Federal Anti-Terrorism Act had been used to go after U.S.-based charities that fund terrorism.
As the verdict was announced, Joyce Boim nodded her head as if to signal her approval. Her son David had hoped to become a doctor, and the trial included testimony about the potential value of David’s life if he had lived to achieve his dream.
“Maybe it’s a drop in the bucket with the entire Hamas organization, but at least we have stopped some money used to buy bombs and bullets that blow up children,” Joyce Boim said.
The Quranic Literacy Institute did not pursue a strong defense, with only the group’s attorney sitting at the defendant’s table when the verdict was announced. The attorney previously claimed he hadn’t been given enough time to prepare a defense.
Both Stanley and Joyce Boim delivered emotional testimony describing their pain after their son was murdered. On Wednesday morning, before the verdict was delivered, Stanley Boim read psalms in the courtroom.
On the witness stand Tuesday, Joyce Boim tried to give the jury a sense of her son, describing him as the family peacemaker — a sweet, happy, funny boy who volunteered on an ambulance. She remembered how he would bound up the stairs after school, slamming the door as he came into the apartment, and lift the lids of pots simmering on the stove to see what she was making for dinner.
“He was the one who cemented everyone together,” she said.
Joyce Boim’s own life changed unalterably the moment David died.
She told the jury about driving to the hospital after learning that David had been hurt and about the ambulance ride across town at breakneck speed to the trauma center at Hadassah Hospital at Ein Kerem, a towel wrapped around David’s neck.
Soon after David was wheeled into the emergency room, a doctor came out to tell her that he had died, Joyce Boim said, weeping.
“I knew the second David died that I’d never be the same,” she said.
To this day, she said, she feels terrible numbness, shock and emptiness.
An economist testified Tuesday that if David Boim had become a physician, he could have earned anywhere from $4 million to $20 million in his lifetime. The Boims, who have lived in Israel since 1985, also sought an additional $6 million for mental anguish.
The total jury award was $52 million, which the judge automatically trebled under federal statutes.
Three of the four parties have had their assets frozen by the federal government, while a fourth group — the Islamic Association for Palestine — is believed to have minimal assets.
On Tuesday, Matthew Levitt, a counter-terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and a former FBI analyst, outlined a money trail that led from a millionaire Saudi businessman to Hamas via the QLI, which gave cover and legitimacy to Salah, an employee and Hamas operative.
In 1992, Salah was sent to Israel to rebuild the leadership of Hamas, which had been gutted by the deportation of 400 Hamas members to Lebanon. Salah later was convicted in Israel for supplying money to the terrorist group.
Chicago is a major center for the Hamas support network, said Stephen Landes, one of the attorneys representing the Boim family, though the defendants maintained that they had no ties to terrorism.
During closing arguments Tuesday, Landes called the three Islamic charitable groups “the oxygen that keeps the terror support system going.”
It takes money to buy the gun that killed David Boim, to train the terrorists that killed him, to indoctrinate others into lives of terrorism and to provide for the terrorists’ families when the terrorists are jailed or commit suicide, Landes said.
“They beat the drums for terrorism,” Landes said of the defendants. “They were the publicists.”
The Anti-Terrorism Act of 1990, which since has been amended, allows American citizens who have been victims of international terrorism to file lawsuits in U.S. courts against people and organizations that have provided support for international terrorism, Landes said.
Still, as Joyce Boim noted of the jury award, “It could be billions of dollars, but it will not bring David back.”