An attorney for American Hamas terror victims in Israel asked jurors last week to “send a message” by finding Arab Bank guilty of providing Hamas with the money it needed to carry out 24 deadly attacks from 2001 to 2004.
“They won’t accept responsibility unless and until you make them,” said Mark Werbner. “It was pretty foreseeable that by helping this organization and facilitating financing services that bad things were going to happen. … The message you can send will reverberate around the world and reverberate as a message to these families that there is justice.”
During the course of the five-week trial before Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Brian Cogan, a jury of eight women and three men heard officials and employees of Arab Bank say they had no idea that any of the financial transactions they processed was for Hamas terrorists or for charities that were raising money for Hamas.
Attorneys for 297 Americans killed or seriously injured in the 24 terror attacks claimed Arab Bank did know and that Hamas could not have acted without the Jordanian-based bank, which is one of the largest financial institutions in the Middle East.
The jury began deliberations late last week.
In his closing arguments to the jury, another attorney for the plaintiffs, Tab Turner, reminded them of the gravity of this case.
“Never has anyone sat on a case of finance terrorism, with issues like you have to decide in this case,” he said. “You have more power today to change the way the world of banking operates than anyone else on the face of the earth. … The greatest force of evil in our society today is terrorism. And these terrorists cannot function, they cannot operate, they cannot preach, they cannot buy weapons, they cannot commit suicide with bombs, without money.”
The case comes at a time when U.S. officials are maintaining carefully scrutiny of cross-border banking transactions. Within the last three years, they stopped the government of Qatar from paying the salaries of Hamas employees. Hamas has been on the U.S. terrorist list since 1997.
Despite defense claims that Arab Bank struggled financially during the wave of Hamas terrorism, Turner said the bank actually made a profit of $2 billion in 2003 alone.
“This bank wasn’t suffering, he said. “In fact, this bank was the only bank making money off of terrorism. …What they are interested in is protecting their pocketbook. Somebody has to step up to the plate and say, ‘Not any more are we going to let you run millions and millions of dollars to these terrorists and take people's lives. It stops right here in Brooklyn.’
“That is how we stop terrorism. You don’t stop them with bullets. You don’t stop them with smart bombs. You take the money away from them.”
The attorney for Arab Bank, Shand Stephens, said in his summation that there had not been “one word of testimony that anyone [associated with the bank] supported terrorism — not one word.”
In fact, he stressed, the evidence showed that the bank ran all transaction requests through a computer program known was OFAC (Official Foreign Asset Control) to prevent facilitating transactions for terrorists. He said virtually all of those the plaintiff claimed were Hamas terrorists and for whom the bank handled transactions were not on the OFAC list. In one case in which a terrorist’s name was on the list, the transaction went through because the name was spelled differently, Stephens said.
Turner insisted, however, that Arab Bank would be guilty of aiding Hamas if the jurors believed the “bank furnished material support or resources to any person acting on behalf of Hamas” regardless of whether the person was on the OFAC list.
Regarding the claim that Arab Bank helped charities that raised money for Hamas, Stephens noted that the United States Agency for International Development “gave money to charities that they [the plaintiffs] say were Hamas controlled.” And he said, “Most of the charities they say were controlled by Hamas were founded before Hamas was founded.”
The plaintiffs had argued that by paying the families of Hamas terrorists killed in the very attacks they carried out, the bank was aiding Hamas terrorism. But Stephens insisted, “You do not punish a family of someone who has committed a criminal act.”
He also acknowledged that charity money went to support Hamas terrorists injured in terror attacks, as well as to those imprisoned by Israel for their actions. But he said it was all done in the open on websites for all to see — and that the Israeli government approved of the payments — a claim plaintiffs contradicted in their summation.
“Thousand of Palestinians have been imprisoned,” Stephens said. “It is said that 10 percent of the whole population has been imprisoned — so there is a huge need for families to be helped.”
Regarding a payment to a terrorist who subsequently blew himself up in a suicide bombing, Stephens said simply: “Nobody knew [he] was going to blow himself up.”
Stephens tried to cast doubt on whether Hamas committed the 24 attacks. But the plaintiffs’ attorneys noted that in many of the 24 attacks the terrorists themselves made videos saying they were with Hamas and lauding their planned acts in the hours before they carried out the attacks.
Turner said there were also bank records that Arab Bank refused to release for the trial and noted that the judge told the jury that it may infer those records were damaging to the bank.
“It wasn’t a mistake” the records were withheld, Turner told the jury. “This bank said no, we’re not giving you those records. What’s so important in those records that they don’t want the jury to see? They did not want you to see the money going into those accounts, the money going out, where it was going — and the internal bank correspondence discussing the accounts.”
Holding up a poster of Hamas funder Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who had an account at the bank, Turner insisted he would have been instantly recognized in any bank branch in the Middle East.
“This is like J-Lo walking in,” he said, referring to the singer/actress Jennifer Lopez.
But Stephens insisted: “This is a case about banking and banking procedure and rules and regulations. They have to prove that the bank caused these attacks — that the bank was the proximate cause of each and every one of these attacks — and they have not tried to do that with even one of them.”
But Turner in his summation countered by saying, “This [trial] is not about banking; it’s about real people who are here for justice.”
“The one thing you did not hear any evidence about were the statements of the victims — 300-plus victims,” he said, noting those would come during another trial should the jury find Arab Bank knowingly and willfully provided and distributed money to Hamas terrorists in violation of the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act.
“That does not mean that the 300-plus victims are to be forgotten,” Turner added.