Palestinians sue pro-Israel tycoons for $34.5bn

Damages sought from Sheldon Adelson and others for financing construction of settlements on Palestinian soil.

Palestinians have a poor track record for winning in US civil courtrooms. [File: Abbas Momani/AFP]

New York, US – A group of Palestinians has launched an ambitious $34.5bn lawsuit against United States-based tycoons, charities and firms for supporting Israeli land grabs, settlement-building and other violations of Palestinians’ rights these past four decades.

They seek damages from  Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate, Irving Moskowitz, a philanthropist with property interests in East Jerusalem, and megachurch pastor John Hagee for financing the construction of settlements on Palestinian soil.

Lawyers also name such charities as Christian Friends of Israeli Communities and private firms, including Dead Sea-based cosmetics maker Ahava, UK-based security firm G4S and the industrial powerhouse Israel Chemicals Limited.

“We’re not in this for the money, but we’ll probably pick the pockets of some very wealthy corporations,” Martin McMahon, a lawyer for the complainants from the firm Martin McMahon and Associates, told Al Jazeera on Monday.

“It’s about time that the world woke up to the fact that Palestinians are being murdered every day with US taxpayer dollars.”


The case is brought by Bassem al-Tamimi, an activist, and about 35 other Palestinians and Palestinian Americans who say they have seen their loved ones killed by Israeli forces and lost their land to settlers and business and construction schemes.

They allege five counts of conspiracy, war crimes, aggravated trespass, pillage and racketeering via various legal mechanisms, including laws against organised crime and US entities linked with overseas human rights abuses.

Al Jazeera contacted Adelson, Hagee and some of the four dozen charities, firms and individuals named in the case but spokespeople were not immediately able to comment.

The suit was filed in the Federal District Court of Washington DC on Monday.

The pro-Palestinian lawyers said that they expected protracted legal arguments over the court’s jurisdiction and potential dismissal proceedings.

A trial, possibly by jury, would probably not take place for five years, they said.

“We have cases going that have lasted 13 years, so we are used to long cases,” Jameson Fox, another lawyer for the Palestinians, told Al Jazeera.

In a statement, al-Tamimi, said that he was tortured and jailed for staging protests at Halamish, a West Bank settlement.

Doaa Abu-Amar, another complainant, lost 14 family members when Israeli forces bombed a day-care centre during the 2009 assault on Gaza, it is claimed.

Ahmed al-Zeer was beaten and left disabled by settlers who attacked him outside the settlement of Ofra, it is claimed.

Susan Abulhawa, another complainant and poet, said she sought official recognition of Palestinian suffering.

“I want a court, somewhere, somehow, to hold accountable those who have financed my pain of dispossession and exile and to hold accountable the financiers of Israel’s wholesale theft of another people’s historic, material, spiritual, and emotional presence in the world,” Abulhawa said in a statement.


Palestinians have a poor track record for winning in US civil courtrooms.

Pro-Palestinian lawyers suffered a setback in New York in February 2015, when jurors awarded $218.5m in damages against the Palestinian leadership and blamed it for terror attacks in Israel that killed or wounded American citizens a decade previously.

Pro-Israel lawyers chalked up another victory in New York last year, when jurors agreed that Jordan’s Arab Bank was liable for materially supporting Hamas.

A US class action suit against Avi Dichter, Israel’s former security chief, over a one-tonne bomb hitting a Gaza City apartment block in 2002, failed in the US after Dichter was granted immunity from prosecution.

Palestinian lawyers complain that US jurors are biased. A Gallup opinion survey last month found that 62 percent of Americans sympathise with Israelis compared to 15 percent who side with Palestinians.

McMahon said that unconditional support for Israel was waning.

“Forty per cent of Jewish Americans condemn settlements so there is a complete reversal going on in America against tolerating these actions from the Israeli government, and our law suit apparently is a vehicle for those who are completely frustrated by that process,” McMahon said.

George Bisharat, a Palestinian-American law professor at California University, described a growing number of so-called lawfare cases between Israelis and Palestinians, where courts are used in part to sway public opinion.

“I’m sceptical of courts and their willingness to be politically daring and would put the odds of this case winning at less than 50 per cent,” Bisharat told Al Jazeera.

“As a matter of publicity, there is great potential to be exploited here. Palestinian have not effectively explored all of their legal remedies or been artful in managing cases, so there is untapped potential there.”

Follow James Reinl on Twitter: @jamesreinl

Source: Al Jazeera