The Jerusalem District Court handed down a precedent-setting ruling yesterday when it enjoined the Palestinian Authority to pay more than $116 million in damages to the surviving family of Yaron and Efrat Unger, who were murdered in a terror attack about 12 years ago.
The Ungers were attacked and killed by a terror cell while they were driving in their car near Beit Shemesh. They are survived by two orphans, Dvir, who was 2 at the time, and Yishai, who was 9 months old at the time. Yishai just celebrated his bar mitzvah just this past Thursday.
The grandparents of the two children, who were named their legal guardians, sued the Palestinian Authority and the PLO in the U.S., since the late Yaron was an American citizen. Four years ago, a federal court first ruled that the Palestinian Authority had to the aforementioned $116 million-plus in damages to the family. However, after that sum was not paid as instructed, the plaintiffs brought the matter before an Israeli court and sought to have the court rule that the American ruling was enforceable in Israel.
The Palestinian Authority and the PLO vehemently opposed the motion and argued, inter alia, against the dangerous precedent that would be set and which was liable to bring about the Palestinian Authority’s financial collapse and damage the possibility of achieving a comprehensive international arrangement. The plaintiffs, conversely, argued that Israel was currently withholding some $500 million of PA funds, and the PA had not collapsed as a result thereof.
After the arguments were presented, Judge Aharon Farkash ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and declared the U.S. federal court ruling to be enforceable in Israel. The court also ruled that the temporary liens that were placed on NIS 100 million of PA funds by Israel would remain valid pending the execution of the court ruling. Judge Farkash also enjoined the PA to pay court costs.
Attorney Nitzana Darshan-Leitner, the head of Shurat HaDin, which represents dozens of terror victims in court cases, welcomed the ruling. “What this means is that justice is borderless,” said Ms. Darshan-Leitner, “and the ruling can be enacted anywhere in the world as long as it is just.”
There are currently some 150 damages suits against the Palestinian Authority that are still pending in Israeli courts. The sum being demanded in damages in all those cases together comes to billions of shekels. Even though some of those suits were filed almost a decade ago, to date not a single ruling has been handed down that has obliged damages to be paid, and the cases have dragged out due to legal arguments about the PA’s immunity.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in principle that the question of the PA’s immunity needed to be examined in each case individually.
Grandmother: Why Did It Take Three Years?
“I’m pleased with the district court’s ruling but am stunned that it was necessary to drag out this issue in court for three years,” said yesterday Yehudit Dasberg, Dvir and Yishai Unger’s grandmother.
“The other side pulled every trick possible in order to drag this thing out, and I am really glad that its efforts failed,” Ms. Dasberg added. “I still don’t understand why when there is such a reasonable and clear ruling by a court in the United States it was necessary to debate [the issue] for three years in an Israeli court.”
The Ungers were murdered on June 9, 1996 while they were driving on the road between Kiryat Malachi and Beit Shemesh. Their infant son, Yishai, was sleeping in the back seat and wasn’t hurt. Subsequently, he and his older brother Dvir were sent to live with their grandparents, Yehudit and Uri Dasberg, in Alon Shvut, a Jerusalem subur.
This piece ran in the Philadelphia Bulletin on September 3rd, 2008