In a reversal of usual roles, a group of Palestinians is filing a civil lawsuit against American organizations that they claim support terrorist acts by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Two U.S. citizens are among those suing under the Anti-Terrorism Act, a 1991 statute that allows American victims of international terrorism to sue for damages in the United States.
The other Palestinians are using a law that allows non-American citizens to sue for human rights abuses.
The Anti-Terrorism Act was previously used against groups accused of aiding designated Palestinian terror groups.
In 2008, members of the largest Muslim charity in the United States, the Holy Land Foundation, were found guilty of providing material support to Hamas.
Now, Palestinians are using the law against pro-Israeli settler groups.
“I think it’s important for the American justice system to show that they’re going to apply the statute in a neutral and even-handed way, ” said Eric Lewis, a Washington-based lawyer who has had clients accused by pro-Israel groups of aiding Palestinian terror.
“Either everybody gets to pile in and make their political grievance halfway around the world in a U.S. court and get remedies here, or nobody does.”
The suit was filed against pro-settler organizations on the basis that they help supply arms for Israeli settlers and support those who attack Palestinians.
Malito & Adolfsen, a litigation firm based in New York, is filing the case in the southern district court of New York. The firm refused to comment.
The defendants - the Hebron Fund, the Central Fund of Israel, the One Israel Fund, American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, and Christian Friends of Israeli Communities - did not respond to requests by Al Arabiya for comment.
Abed Ayoub, with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), said this case is a good approach in a broader effort to protect Palestinian human rights.
“We have to use the laws we have here in the United States to our advantage. There are laws out there, for example, that say you can’t deceptively fundraise,” he said.
Recent research by ADC found that some pro-Israel groups said they use donor money for educational or peaceful purposes, but actually use it for other things.
“When you look into their activities and their news releases, you find out that… they’re engaging in warfare and in discriminatory practices, so we need to ensure that they’re no longer getting those tax breaks,” Ayoub said. Both Ayoub and Lewis see obstacles for the case, but expressed optimism.
“If the plaintiffs can show knowledge that those who donated to these organizations knew that these were settler organizations that were going to use violence to displace Palestinians… then I think you have a reasonably good chance of getting over the procedural hurdles,” said Lewis.
Prior cases using the Anti-Terrorism Act were applied to groups that were clearly defined as terrorist organizations, which is easier to prove, Ayoub said.
“When you have organizations here that are functioning legally, it’s a little bit more difficult,” he added. “It does offer a challenge, although those challenges could be overcome with the right evidence and with the right approach.”
However, Ayoub said he views this lawsuit as a positive, primarily because it puts the issue on the table.
The lawsuit “is certainly a step in the right direction, to ensure these practices are no longer tolerated and they’re addressed in the right way,” he added.
(Britain Eakin is a freelance journalist, and a graduate student of journalism and Middle East studies at the University of Arizona.)