PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Palestine Liberation Organization and its governmental entity must each pay more than $116 million to the estate of a Jewish couple slain near the West Bank eight years ago, a federal judge ruled.
The ruling follows a four-year battle to link the organizations to the crime.
The rulings hold the organizations responsible for the drive-by shooting of Yaron Ungar (search), an American citizen, and his Israeli wife, Efrat, in June 1996.
The case was filed in March 2000 in U.S. District Court in Providence, where the lawyer handling the Ungars' estate is based. It's one of a handful of lawsuits filed under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1991 (search) seeking to hold organizations responsible for the killings of American citizens.
David Strachman, the Providence attorney appointed by an Israeli court to handle the Ungars' estate, called the ruling a "substantive decision."
"It shows average citizens that are attacked have an avenue to use to go and punish terrorists," Strachman said Tuesday.
Strachman said the next step will be to try to collect from the organizations, though they may appeal the ruling to the 1st U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston.
The rulings against the PLO and Palestinian Authority follow a January decision by Lagueux holding the militant organization Hamas (search) responsible for the Ungars' deaths and ordering it to pay $116 million. Hamas has not contested the lawsuit, and it's unclear whether it will honor the ruling.
The Ungars had argued the PLO and Palestinian Authority should also be held liable because, they argued, the organizations provided a safe haven and operational base for Hamas. The organizations' attorneys have denied the claim.
In an April fax to The Associated Press shortly after Martin's decision, Schilling wrote: "It's difficult to understand the justice of a U.S. court entering an award for a single death in the amount of $116,000,000 based on claims which arise entirely outside the U.S. and over which its courts normally would be without jurisdiction."
The default judgment was issued after the PLO did not respond to plaintiffs' requests to make witnesses — including PLO leader Yasser Arafat — available for depositions, and did not engage in discovery, which is the sharing of information in the case.
The Ungars were killed in a drive-by shooting near the Israeli village of Beit Shemesh as they were returning home from a wedding. One of their two children was with them but escaped unharmed.
A similar lawsuit has been filed in federal court in New York against Al Qaeda, several countries and others by families of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It seeks $200 billion in damages.