The spokesman for a mainstream organization of the PLO, the Fateh, confirmed again yesterday that Fateh indeed takes responsibility for this week’s murder of Tel Aviv District Court Judge Adi Azar, the same judge who has been adjudicating terror compensation cases in Tel Aviv for the past five years.
Last year, Judge Azar ruled in the Tel Aviv District Court that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat must pay a sum in Israeli currency of 52 million shekels (About $11.5 million U.S. dollars) to Israel’s Egged bus cooperative, because of the company’s lost revenues during just one year of the current PLO-led series of terror attacks.According to the decision, Arafat must also pay Egged’s legal expenses, amounting to 100,000 shekels. Judge Azar’s verdict was issued without Arafat’s submitting a written defense.
Egged had filed a suit against the Palestine Authority, the Palestinian Council, and Arafat on grounds of decreased revenues due to terror attacks and suicide bombings on public buses. According to the suit, the terror attacks led to major financial losses for Egged, because the public refrained from taking public buses due to fears of attacks.
According to statistics presented in the suit, 53 attacks were carried out against Egged buses since the outbreak of the current Intifada -- 20 of them suicide bombings -- in which 200 people were killed. The claim states that during that same period, the number of bus passengers decreased by 15-20 percent, which Egged said was a direct result of the attacks.
In addition to the suit, Egged filed a request for a lien on Palestine Authority funds held by the state of Israel. Judge Azar had agreed to the request, and issued a lien of the PA’s value-added tax monies. The PA filed a written defense in this regard, in which it asked for a reversal of the lien.
In yet another landmark decision, Judge Azar placed a lien on 4 million shekels ($890,000 US) of PLO assets in favor of Yosef Azouz, who was wounded in the March 2002 terrorist attack at the Sea Food Market restaurant. The PLO had not contested this case, claiming immunity.
However, Judge Adi Azar, wrote, “Immunity accrues to those who follow accepted and civilized modes of behavior, and not to those who take hold of an instrument of war and embark on a path of indiscriminate murders.’”
Moreover, Judge Azar also ordered the PLO to reveal its assets in court, something that it has refused to do.
In an attempt to annul temporary liens, the PLO had initially stated that it possessed considerable assets and would not have a problem meeting the payments required by the courts if the courts ruled that the PLO had to compensate the plaintiffs. In an affidavit to the Tel Aviv District Court in the Egged suit, Muhand Aljaouni, an aide to Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, stated that the PLO owns assets “whose value is dozens of times greater than the amount of the suit ... The Palestinian Authority has investments worth about $600 million in various companies.”
A document attached to the affidavit provides details of the PLO’s investments: $74 million in cash and a partner in 64 companies, including communications firms in Jordan, Algeria and Tunisia, a Palestinian cement company, a gas and aviation project, real estate transactions worth $15 million, hotels, a flour mill, a convention center in Bethlehem and the companies that market Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola in the territories.
At a time when the wealth of the PLO is estimated at anywhere between $3 and $12 billion, could anyone believe in such figures?
However, the PLO, retaining a prominent left-wing Israeli lawyer, Yossi Arnon, appealed the decision of Judge Azar, stating, “This is not a terrorist case, but a civil case involving a damage suit.” Cross-examining the director of the bus company’s financial division, Arnon focused on the question of whether Egged’s profits had shrunk not because of the terrorist attacks but because it lost its monopoly status as an intercity carrier.
But Judge Azar refused to accept Arnon’s approach. “Even though this is a civil suit,” he wrote in an interim decision, “it deals in its entirety with a lengthy chain of acts of terrorism and atrocity that are exceptional even by international criteria, which unfortunately occurred in the recent past in Israel...It cannot be treated as a routine, regular breach of contract suit, as though we were dealing with a cupboard that someone ordered but was not delivered, or a check not honored by a bank.”
“Someone has to pay for the damage we suffered,” testified Yoram Cohen from Moment Café in Jerusalem, whose coffee shop had been blown up in March 2002, killing 18 people. “The property tax department compensated us for the destruction of the tables and chairs, but the whole building was destroyed and the business was closed for four months after the attack -- and in the situation today, every week of closure is fateful. Today we are still doing only 40 percent of the business we did before the attack. I am not introducing politics into the issue, all I want is to get back what I had before.”
”The PLO has to compensate me for everything I went through,” testified Sarid Schwartzgoren, who was wounded in a 1996 suicide bombing on the number 18 bus in Jerusalem. He was 25 at the time, a security guard in the Old City, and was to be married two weeks later. Critically injured in the blast, he was in intensive care for three weeks, underwent two major operations and has a 54 percent disability status. He is now married and the father of three children and is currently studying international relations and history. “The suit is just and will also act as a deterrent, because money is very important to the people who hold the reins of power,” he said.
For the past year, the PLO has conducted a campaign to remove Judge Azar from adjudicating cases against their organization with their lawyer, Yossi Arnon, taking the unusual step of making such a demand in Tel Aviv district court. Now, with his murder, Judge Azar has indeed been permanently removed from the case. The next judge adjudicating compensation cases against the PLO, whether in Israel or abroad, will think twice before ruling in favor of the plaintiffs.
Judge Azar was murdered occurred only three days after a judgment rendered against the PLO in Rhode Island, where the PLO was fined in the amount of $116 million U.S. dollars for protecting a Hamas terrorist who had murdered a young couple in their car just outside of Jerusalem, leaving two orphaned little boys who are now being brought up by their maternal grandparents
Cases like these could totally bankrupt the PLO, given the fact that more than 1,300 people have been murdered in cold blood and more than 7,000 people have sustained serious injuries in its terror campaign.
The murder of Judge Azar marks a new watershed in the War On Terror. Israel and the world must ask themselves how a world that lives by the rule of law can create another state that murders the very judges who mete out the law. And Israel itself must come to terms with a judicial system in which blood would be paid in the future if any more judgments are rendered against the PLO.