Bank ter­ror

Three be­reaved fa­thers ex­plain their bat­tle against the Arab Bank


March 5, 2003, be­gan like any other nor­mal day, but that day be­came a night­mare from which we have been un­able to wake af­ter a fa­natic ter­ror­ist blew him­self and oth­ers up on a pub­lic bus on the streets of Haifa. We col­lec­tively had three chil­dren on the bus – Asaf Zur (16 years old), Yu­val Mendellevich (13 years old), and Tal Kehrmann (17 years old). Two were com­ing home from school, and the other was go­ing shop­ping for a se­nior prom. Their lives were cut short in an in­stant when the ter­ror­ist det­o­nated his ex­plo­sives.

It is of­ten said that “time heals all wounds,” but we can at­test that our pain in­creases with ev­ery day that passes. We have felt the un­think­able bur­den placed on our shoul­ders ev­ery day since our chil­dren were mur­dered. We yearn for an­swers and “what ifs” con­stantly eat at us. We yearn for a day when such at­tacks won’t be pos­si­ble… at least not sys­tem­at­i­cally funded by a cor­po­ra­tion or en­abled by a bank such as this at­tack was. That’s why we are ded­i­cated to en­sure oth­ers don’t have to lose pre­cious loved ones.

Ter­ror­ism is a chain of evil that is long and made of many links. Ter­ror­ism isn’t just about the last and weak­est link – the ter­ror­ist that ex­plodes, shoots or stabs. Ter­ror­ism is about what made that last act pos­si­ble. It is about the re­cruiters, en­gi­neers, in­citers, donors and mostly fi­nanciers of ter­ror­ism. Money is the fuel on which ter­ror­ism runs. Stop the flow of money and ter­ror­ism will come to a halt. Un­for­tu­nately, these days, fi­nanc­ing is not done by peo­ple smug­gling cash in suit­cases. It is done on a much larger scale us­ing in­ter­na­tional banks. Those banks must be held re­spon­si­ble for their part in this chain of evil.

Our chil­dren were killed by a Ha­mas ter­ror­ist who at­tempted to kill as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. We later found out that Arab Bank was pro­vid­ing the fi­nan­cial ap­pa­ra­tus to award what amounted to in­sur­ance pay­ments to the fam­i­lies of “mar­tyrs” (sui­cide bombers and other ter­ror­ists) who died while per­pe­trat­ing at­tacks against civil­ians. The pay­ments were oc­cur­ring pri­mar­ily dur­ing the Sec­ond In­tifada, which was a time of un­par­al­leled vi­o­lence in the form of shoot­ings and sui­cide/homi­cide bomb­ings of in­no­cent civil­ians on buses, in cafes and on the high­ways in Is­rael. We firmly be­lieve the Arab Bank was an ac­com­plice in the mur­der of our chil­dren by help­ing to fund these ter­ri­ble acts.

On Oc­to­ber 11, 2017, the US Supreme Court will hear oral ar­gu­ments in Jes­ner, et al. v. Arab Bank, PLC, to de­cide whether cor­po­ra­tions such as Arab Bank may be held re­spon­si­ble for vi­o­la­tions of cus­tom­ary in­ter­na­tional law – the “law of na­tions.”

You may ask, why would Is­raelis look for help from Amer­i­can courts?

First, ter­ror­ism is in­ter­na­tional and not some­thing that hap­pens only in Is­rael. The 9/11 at­tacks in the United States demon­strated this to Amer­i­cans, and ter­ror­ists have left their mark in count­less other places, in­clud­ing Madrid, Lon­don, Barcelona, Paris, Brus­sels, Turkey, Iraq, In­done­sia, Saudi Ara­bia and else­where.

Se­condly, the Amer­i­can Congress in 1789 en­acted a statute com­monly re­ferred to as the Alien Tort Statute that pro­vides a venue in Amer­i­can courts for law­suits filed by non-Amer­i­can cit­i­zens harmed by acts com­mit­ted in vi­o­la­tion of cus­tom­ary in­ter­na­tional law. In 2013, the Supreme Court de­ter­mined that this law re­quired that the con­duct giv­ing rise to the claim must “touch and con­cern the ter­ri­tory of the United States … with suf­fi­cient force” to al­low those claims to pro­ceed un­der the Alien Tort Statute.

Our case be­fore the Supreme Court does con­cern ac­tion in the US de­spite the at­tacks oc­cur­ring in Is­rael. Arab Bank op­er­ated a branch in Man­hat­tan, and it was this branch that was crit­i­cal to fund­ing ter­ror­ism be­cause it would ex­change for­eign cur­ren­cies for valu­able and easy-to-trans­fer US dol­lars. The ex­changed money was sent to ac­counts of Ha­mas lead­ers, Ha­mas op­er­a­tives, Ha­mas-run or­ga­ni­za­tions and Ha­mas ter­ror­ists through­out the Mid­dle East with ac­counts at the Arab Bank. These trans­fers were even made to in­fa­mous founders of Ha­mas, such as the quad­ri­plegic founder and spir­i­tual leader of the move­ment Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and the founder and leader of Ha­mas’ mil­i­tary wing, Saleh She­hadeh, both of whom were Arab Bank ac­count hold­ers in Gaza.

The fed­eral ap­peals court in New York, how­ever, de­ter­mined that cor­po­ra­tions such as Arab Bank were im­mune from suit un­der the Alien Tort Statute solely on the ba­sis of their cor­po­rate sta­tus. In other words, coun­tries and in­di­vid­u­als are pro­hib­ited from vi­o­lat­ing in­ter­na­tional law, but cor­po­ra­tions are free to do so with im­punity.

Amer­i­cans killed in the same at­tack as our chil­dren have been per­mit­ted to pur­sue their claims against Arab Bank un­der a dif­fer­ent law, and the in­equity be­tween al­low­ing one per­son to pur­sue claims but to pre­clude the per­son who may have been sit­ting next to them and suf­fered the same harm is clear and pal­pa­ble.

Ever since our chil­dren were bru­tally mur­dered in a ter­ror­ist at­tack, fight­ing ter­ror­ism in all its forms be­came our life mis­sion. This is the only way we can sleep at night, know­ing we are do­ing ev­ery­thing we can to pro­tect our liv­ing chil­dren and oth­ers.

The phrase “les no­blesse oblige” re­flects the idea that some­one with power and in­flu­ence should use their so­cial po­si­tion to help other peo­ple in other places, the in­ferred re­spon­si­bil­ity of priv­i­leged peo­ple to act with gen­eros­ity and no­bil­ity to­ward those less priv­i­leged. Those who have suf­fered at the hands of ter­ror­ists, or who have been bru­tally en­slaved or traf­ficked across bor­ders, or who were the vic­tims of other sim­i­lar hu­man rights abuses are those less priv­i­leged in­di­vid­u­als who look to the United States to pro­vide a rem­edy – rec­og­niz­ing that there must be a real con­nec­tion be­tween the con­duct at is­sue and the United States.

We can only hope that the Supreme Court will de­ter­mine that cor­po­ra­tions are not al­lowed to vi­o­late cus­tom­ary in­ter­na­tional law and harm in­no­cent civil­ians. To find cor­po­ra­tions im­mune for such il­le­gal ac­tions would un­der­mine pre­cisely what the US stands for – life, lib­erty, the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness, and equal­ity un­der the law.

The writ­ers are three fa­thers from Haifa whose chil­dren were killed in a bus bomb­ing in Haifa in 2003.


‘MARCH 5, 2003, be­gan like any other nor­mal day. But that day be­came a night­mare from which we have been un­able to wake af­ter a fa­natic sui­cide ter­ror­ist blew him­self up on a pub­lic bus on the streets of Haifa.’

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