By Ilyse Gellar Sternberg, Esq.
During the week of March 7—13, Shurat HaDin, the Israel Law Center, conducted an activist lawyer’s training seminar in Jerusalem. This enlightening experience was geared towards training attorneys to combat terrorism by focusing their skills on the courts, legislation, and public relations. A geographically diverse yet focused group of more than 50 attorneys attended from the U.S., Israel, Germany, Italy, South Africa, and Ecuador. The seminar included presentations from prominent Israeli and American jurists who are noted experts in their fields.
Shurat HaDin was founded in 2003 by Nitsana Darshan-Leitner and her husband, Avi Leitner, both attorneys. Shurat HaDin is a non-governmental organization dedicated to proactively commencing civil actions against terrorist organizations–with the goal of bankrupting terrorism, one lawsuit at a time. Shurat HaDin has successfully frozen over $600 million in assets, which they maintain would have been used to fund terrorist activities. This aggressive activist organization has sued and obtained judgments against the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization in the United States and other countries. It has brought civil actions against Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and the governments of North Korea, Iran, and Syria, as well as actions against various banks. Over $200 million has been distributed to the victims of terrorism and their families.
Shurat HaDin is currently seeking an injunction to require Facebook to stop terrorists from using the service to incite violent attacks against Israelis and other Jews. Shurat HaDin asserts that Facebook assists terrorists in acting on their messages and, by doing so, is more than just a neutral service provider.
Another topic of interest was the recent case of Sokolow vs. the PLO and the PA in U.S. District Court in New York. In the Sokolow action, a $655 million judgment was obtained against various terrorist organizations for the bombing of King George Street in 2002 and other acts of terror during the 2002—2004 “Second Intifada.” Kent Yalowitz, Esq., of the law firm of Arnold & Porter explained that jurisdiction was obtained under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001. Terrorism was connected to these organizations by linking promotion and payroll records to individual terrorists supported by the PLO and PA, who describe them as “martyrs.”
Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard University appeared via Skype. Professor Dershowitz addressed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. He described how the movement’s actions actually function as a disincentive to the Arab “street.” The BDS movement discourages negotiations that would result in perceived sacrifices to achieve a two-state solution. He illustrated how the BDS movement demonizes the Jewish state, by applying a double standard to Israel that applies to no other sovereign state. Professor Dershowitz recommended fighting BDS with facts, rather than censure, by demanding that the standard be applied universally to the countries that are the worst human-rights offenders, such as China, Cuba, and Belarus.
Israel has a “clean birth certificate,” said Professor Dershowitz, citing the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the UN Partition Plan for Palestine of 1947–which was accepted by Israel but universally rejected by the Arab states. Israel must defend itself against asymmetrical warfare, which presents unique challenges to observe the international law principles of (1) distinction between military and civilian targets and (2) calculating proportionality of civilian deaths to the relative military gains achieved. He expanded on the principle of self-defense by which any country has the right to value its own civilians over the lives of other civilians, particularly where civilians are being treated as human shields.
Dr. Bruce Bechtol, a professor of political science and a former U.S. marine and Defense Intelligence Agency agent, provided insight into North Korea’s “worldwide weapons-proliferation network.” Without North Korea’s assistance, Hamas’s attack tunnels in Gaza, Hezbollah’s missile stockpile, and the Fordow Iranian nuclear facility would not exist in their present form. Further, North Korea’s activities in promoting terrorism and proliferation constitute “40% of North Korea’s economy.”
Professor Avi Bell of Bar Ilan University and the University of San Diego addressed the international-law construct designating the Palestinians as “refugees.” In a detailed legal argument, he explained that the arguments against Israel are not grounded in international law, but rather anti-Israel laws. He stated that the relevant United Nations declarations of 1951 and 1967 contain no provision for a “right of return.” Instead, a central element is that of protecting the right of the refugee not to be expelled or returned to a place where he or she is threatened on the basis of race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular group. Additionally, he established that the Palestinian claims of a right of return rely on UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948). He reminded us that UN resolutions are not designed to grant any enforcement power. Moreover, this anti-Israel resolution is against all precedent, in that no other group has its own status at the UN.
Also discussed was the legality of the security barrier started in May 2002, currently under review by Israel’s Supreme Court under Israeli, rather than international, law. Professor Bell noted that the security fence, which he describes as a “necessary and proportionate response” to genocide and crimes against humanity, does not violate international law. Nor does it apply to the West Bank, which he calls a “territory of disputed sovereignty to which Israel has the strongest claim.”
This inspiring and eye-opening seminar is just one of the seminars and missions sponsored by Shurat HaDin. Upcoming activities include a conference on the subject “Towards a New Law of War” and an Ultimate Mission to Israel. Shurat HaDin also has opportunities for a student internship program. Shurat HaDin is currently planning a similar activist attorney seminar in the U.S. For further information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or 972-3-7514175.
Ilyse Gellar Sternberg is a partner in the law firm of Maidenbaum & Sternberg, LLP