CHICAGO — The parents of a U.S.-born Jewish teen killed by Palestinian militants near a West Bank bus stop eight years ago call a $156 million federal court award against three Islamic charities and an alleged Hamas fundraiser “justice.”
Islamic groups call it “religious persecution.”
A 12-member federal court jury in Chicago deliberated six hours before awarding Stanley and Joyce Boim $52 million in damages after deciding the U.S.-based Islamic groups and Mohammed Salah, a resident of Bridgeview, Ill., helped fund terrorism in the Middle East.
David Boim, a 17-year-old U.S. citizen whose family moved to Israel from New York in 1985, was shot to death in 1996 while waiting for a bus across the street from his high school near Bait El, an Israeli Jewish settlement located outside Jerusalem in the West Bank.
The $600 million civil lawsuit brought by his parents, U.S. citizens living in Israel, was the first use of the federal Anti-Terrorism Act of 1990 that allows victims of violence overseas to sue U.S. groups for terrorist acts committed outside the United States.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Arlander Keys tripled damages to $156 million from the Illinois-based Quranic Literacy Institute, the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, the Islamic Association for Palestine and Salah.
Amer Haleem, secretary of the Quranic Literacy Institute, called the verdict “pure and simple religious persecution.” Haleem said the Quranic Institute was a peaceful group that translated the Koran and other Islamic religious texts into English.
In 2002, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Islamic groups could be held liable if the Boims could show the groups gave material support to Hamas. Legal experts said the award could trigger a flood of similar lawsuits by victims of terrorist violence and their families. Some predict appeals likely will send the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
At least four similar lawsuits are making their way through the courts, Chicago Public Radio reported.
Boim said he and his wife were not interested in collecting money and sought to dry up a source of funding for Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups.
During the trial, Joyce Boim, David’s mother, said it was difficult listening to evidence from a terrorism expert on Hamas operations “knowing what was behind the bullet that killed my son.” Matt Leavit testified that Hamas ran hospitals and schools while sponsoring assassinations and suicide bombers.
Stanley Boim said the family did not file the precedent-setting lawsuit to profit financially. He believes the case has a spiritual as well as historic dimension.
“I wonder just why I’ve been selected to be in this position,” Boim told reporters at the Dirksen Federal Building. “I don’t know. There’s some sort of a selection process. It could be fate. It could be heavenly. I don’t know, but I was selected to it and I’m accepting it.”
Joyce Boim wept upon hearing the verdict four years after filing the lawsuit.
“I see now, finally, justice for David. David I’ll never see again, but justice I have. I hope to see more of these terrorists organizations put in their place and stopped.”
Boim attorneys Stephen Landes and Richard Hoffman presented binders of documents and bank records seized from the Quranic Literacy Institute and Salah that established a paper trail to high-ranking individuals in the Hamas network. Nothing in the documents specifically mentioned David Boim, and the defendants vowed to conduct a vigorous appeal.
Defense attorney John Beal sat silently in the courtroom through the five-day trial. He did not mount a defense or give a closing argument in protest. Beal said Keys had held the defendants liable after refusing to grant a continuance for additional time to prepare for trial.
“He gave us less than three weeks to put together a defense in which we would have to go through 3,000 documents in three different languages,” Haleem said. “We were patient for nearly five years with the court and its delays and with the plaintiffs and their delays — and the judge could not give us two months to mount a defense.”
Attorneys for the other tax-exempt non-profits and Salah did not attend the trial. Salah is free on bond on federal money-laundering charges filed this year and has denied funneling money to Hamas.
He pleaded guilty to terrorism-related money-running charges in Israel in the 1990s but later said his confession resulted from torture.
“I think it is not possible to get a fair trial in America,” Haleem said. “It’s enough to say, ‘Muslims have done this.'”
The U.S. government froze $1.4 million in assets of the Quranic Literacy Institute in 1998, and the other groups had several million frozen that could be used to start paying the Boims.
“Nobody had tried this statute before and this case … that the Boims brought is now the foundation for many cases that are being brought by victims of terrorism, including the 9/11 victims,” said Landes.
The $156 million award was low-key in Israel but a top story in the Arab world.
The influential Jerusalem Post ran a U.S. wire-service story, but Muslim media said the case was an unfair attack on Islam.
Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based Islamic television network, said no Palestinian group had claimed responsibility in Boim’s killing. Many Muslims see Hamas as a legitimate organization resisting Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
“We feel that the decision is unfortunate but expected. I think this will only serve to discourage American Muslims from giving to charity,” Yaser Tabbara, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations told Aljazeera.net.
Tabbara said under the 14-year-old anti-terrorism law it should be possible for a Palestinian-American to sue U.S. fundraising groups for the Israeli Defense Force for unlawful killings of Palestinians overseas.
copyright © 2004, wpherald.com