Double standards in the dubious game of Palestinian-Israeli lawfare

Double standards in the dubious game of Palestinian-Israeli lawfare
Analysis: Although it is illegal to provide support to Hamas, designated as a terrorist organisation, US courts dismiss cases against charities funding illegal settlements.
4 min read
30 April, 2015
Providing material support to illegal settlers who harass Palestinians has been found legal [AFP]
A New York appellate court on Friday upheld the dismissal of a complaint filed by 13 Palestinians alleging that certain US charities were providing material support for "terrorism" by funding extreme right-wing settlers in the occupied West Bank.

All thirteen people had been physically attacked or had property damaged by Israeli settlers who live in the very settlements financially buoyed by these charities.

The Yitzhar and Bat Ayin settlements, two of the most notoriously violent purveyors of "price tag" attacks on Palestinians and their property, are named in the suit, which accuses them of fomenting terrorism while receiving American donations.

Some of Yitzhar's inhabitants have been the source of rampant violence against Palestinians - so much so that even the Israeli army has repeatedly intervened. In 2009, the rabbi of the settlement's Yeshiva published a book justifying the killing of non-Jews - including infants - in cases where "it is clear that they may grow up to harm us".

Bat Ayin comes close to Yitzhar in its religious, right-wing ideology and belligerence, according to the liberal Zionist organisation, Americans for Peace Now. Bat Ayin's armed underground group, located near Hebron, was founded during the first intifada to do just that - to carry out "revenge terrorist attacks against Arabs".
     Courts routinely dismiss cases that attempt to hold Israeli violence to account.

The charities named in the suit help finance these settlements by collecting tax-deductible donations from American Zionists.

One of the charities, Central Fund of Israel, directly funds Yitzhar and explicitly states that its money goes to providing settlers with "security programmes". This means the money can be used to purchase the machetes, guns, and ammunition used to attack surrounding Palestinian villages.

The Hebron Fund, meanwhile, pays the legal fees of those settlers arrested in attacks on Palestinians. The Hebron Fund also contributes money to its Israel-based counterpart, the founder of which was convicted of a pair of car bombings in 1980 that targeted the mayors of Palestinian villages.

A third charity, Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, was set up after the Oslo Accords to resist "territorial concessions" and help the settlers "on the forefront of Israel's territorial battle".

But the New York court dismissed the complaint, finding that the allegations did not constitute material support for "terrorism".

Double standard

The dismissal of the case draws attention to US courts' double standards when it comes to litigating the so-called Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In the past year, New York juries have found Arab and Palestinian institutions responsible for the material support of terrorism in similar civil anti-terrorism suits. Meanwhile, courts routinely dismiss cases that similarly attempt to hold Israeli violence to account.

Representing the US Zionist charities during the appeal's hearing was Nat Lewin, the first lawyer to sue US charities for material support for terrorism. In 2000, Lewin successfully sued charities, principally The Holy Land Foundation, for aiding Hamas, finding them liable for damages.

During the hearing, the judges reportedly expressed disapproval of the broad interpretation of the Anti-Terrorism Act on which the conviction of the Holy Land Foundation depended, allowing the charity to be found liable without proving it intended to support the militant activities of Hamas.

The Second Circuit Court of appeals holds that, in order to be held liable for material support for terrorism, the plaintiffs must prove a direct intention to support violent acts.

The Palestinians' suit against the American-Zionist charities had been heralded by some Palestinian activists and critics of the settlements as a worthwhile and very welcome twist on the usual way American anti-terrorism laws have, overwhelmingly, targeted Palestinian and Muslim people and organisations - often on clearly tenuous grounds.

Dangerous laws

But while there is no doubt that double standards are being exercised with vicious intent in the US courtroom, the abuse of an already dangerous law cannot be rectified by extending its application.

The Anti-Terrorism Act has laid waste to hundreds of lives by opening the floodgates of litigation against people simply because they have a connection, however slight, to nations, political parties, or individuals US politicians have criminalised.

Furthermore, the very foundation of the complaint is that the settlers delivering those malicious, violent "price tags" on Palestinians were exceptional - thereby exonerating the Israeli government's magnanimous support for and expansion of all settlements - providing them not only with subsidised housing, but the security of its vast army.

It might be seen as encouraging that the Second Circuit expressed the need to raise the standards for liability for "material support". Given the reality of Israel's comfortably cushioned position in the US political sphere, it seems far more likely that it merely confirms that the label of terrorist pertains more to the identity of the perpetrator than the criminality of the act.

Five years ago, the same New York appellate court admitted the definition of what constitutes "terrorism" remains inherently vague. The court threw out a "terrorism" conviction of a gang member because it did "not match our collective understanding of what constitutes a terrorist act".

Our "understanding" of terrorism is one that is, without a doubt, racialised. Anti-terrorism laws have been used to effectively criminalize - and quite literally, terrorise - Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians in the US for two decades.

They have enabled draconian prison sentences, leading to the destruction of families and communities. The danger these laws pose can only be quelled by retiring them completely.