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Third Lawsuit Against Arab Bank Represents Israeli, American Victims

In the largest of several recent cases against the Arab Bank, a new lawsuit charges it with “organized genocide.” Filed Tuesday in the Eastern District Court of New York, the lawsuit represents more than 700 Israeli and American victims of Palestinian terrorism.

It comes after several other cases have been filed against the bank, accusing its New York office of being a central actor in providing death-and-dismemberment checks to Palestinian suicide bombers’ families.

Those cases were filed under U.S. anti-terrorism laws and represent only Americans. In contrast, Almog et al. v. Arab Bank, PLC, also represents Israelis under a 1789 Alien Tort Claims Act that allows foreigners to seek redress through the U.S. court system for genocide and crimes against humanity, wherever they take place.

“As President Bush declared after our country was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001,” those who harbor terrorists are no better than terrorists, said Ronald Motley, lead attorney on the case.

“We allege that Hamas and their similar-minded organizations declared a war of genocide,” Motley said at a news conference Tuesday in Brooklyn, showing how the money trail feeds terrorist attacks.

Plaintiffs allege that the Jordan-based bank, which has more than 400 branches in 25 countries, shifted money raised in Saudi Arabia and changed into U.S. dollars to offices in the West Bank and Gaza, where terrorists’ relatives and members of the violently Islamist Hamas were able to withdraw it, according to Reuters.

The plaintiffs are filing for “multiples of billions of dollars,” Motley said, but added that the intention is to force the bank to reform, not go bankrupt.

An attorney representing the Arab Bank in New York flatly rejected the claims.

“Based on the press release issued today, which is all we have seen so far, Arab Bank asserts unequivocally, and above all else, that it deplores and condemns terrorism in all its forms, and is saddened by the consequences of it,” Reuters quoted Kevin Walsh as having said in a statement.

Motley and his co-counsel, Allan Gerson, sued Al-Qaida and members of the Saudi royal family in a pending case on behalf of families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The case filed Tuesday was filed as a related case to two other suits filed in the same court against the Arab Bank.

Linde v. Arab Bank was filed in July on behalf of more than 40 American relatives of victims of Palestinian terrorism. Litle v. Arab Bank was filed Monday by 117 American relatives of victims of Palestinian terrorism.

Motley said attorneys on the three cases are cooperating.

The new suit follows some legal victories against backers of Palestinian terrorism.

Linde v. Arab Bank already prompted the bank to freeze a Beirut account linked to Hamas late last month, said Gary Osen, an attorney for the plaintiffs in that case.

Several thousand dollars were frozen in the account, but it’s unclear how much money already had passed through it, he said.

In a separate case this month, a federal court in Chicago awarded $156 million to the Boim family, whose 17-year old son was killed in a 1996 terrorist attack in the West Bank.

That suit was against the Islamic Association for Palestine, the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the Quranic Literacy Institute and a Hamas operative named Muhammad Salah.

After the Boim verdict, the family’s lawyers acknowledged that they had benefited from post-9/11 sensibilities in the United States, and predicted that the case would have far-reaching implications.

“Boim is an important precedent,” Osen agreed. “It establishes that the anti-terrorism act will hold people liable even if they’re not the bombers.”

“I think what you see in our case and what has been followed up today in the case brought by Motley Rice is the idea of taking that one step further, toward financial institutions who are not themselves offshoots or fund-raising arms of Hamas,” Osen said. Motley Rice is the law firm representing the plaintiffs in Almog et al. v. Arab Bank.

At the same time, Osen noted, banks arguably are more critical to the financing process than are terrorist front groups posing as charities.

The lead plaintiff in the newest case is Iris Almog Schwartz, an Israeli who lost her parents, brother and two nephews in the Oct. 4, 2003, suicide bombing of the Maxim restaurant in Haifa.

She and others took the stage at Tuesday’s news conference to tell their stories.

Yossi Mendellevich said he was talking with his 13-year-old son by cell phone when he heard a “sound like compressed air” and the call disconnected. A suicide bomber had just blown up the bus carrying his son home from school.

Yoheved Franco wears a medallion around her neck with a photo of her daughter, Keren, killed at age 18 by another bus bomber.

Polina Volis, a young Uzbeki immigrant to Israel, still has nails in her body from a June 2001 attack at the Dolphinarium, a Tel Aviv disco popular with young Russian Jews.

Volis was going to a friend’s birthday party when the blast flung her aside and knocked her unconscious. When she awoke, she couldn’t move and saw a gaping hole in her leg.

“It’s very hard to get up every morning” and realize that so many of the plans she made with her friends — such as going to the army together — have been replaced with visiting their graves and their mourning parents, she said.

Volis, who is about to undergo her sixth surgery, spoke with gravitas but showed little emotion.

“I feel that this lawsuit was made by my blood and the blood of my friends,” she said.

Other plaintiffs agreed that the lawsuit was their best hope to save the lives of others.

“We are striking back nonviolently with the most powerful weapon we have — the U.S. courts,” Almog Schwartz said.

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