Despite a commitment from the United States government to bring overseas terrorists to justice, families of American victims of Palestinian violence overseas are still searching for answers. None of the 64 cases in the last 23 years has resulted in a conviction, prompting anger from some Jews in the United States and in Israel.
In 2004 Congress passed the Koby Mandell Act, which created the Office for Victims of Overseas Terrorism within the Department of Justice to handle cases of overseas terrorism against Americans. It came in response to the 2001 slaying of 13-year old American citizen Koby Mandell, who was living and attending school near the West Bank.
“We’ve been dealing with the Justice Department and the State Department since Day 1, since the Koby Mandell Act,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, an attorney and activist who leads the Shurat Hadin Law Center in Israel.
“And we know since we called them to prosecute [on behalf of] our client [Mandell family] that they’re not coming through.”
For 15 years, Darshan-Leitner has worked with organizations internationally to try to ensure that countries do not accept funding from designated Palestinian terrorist groups and secure compensation for victims and their families.
Last year, Shurat Hadin worked with other attorneys to win a lawsuit brought in a New York federal court against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The suit resulted in more than $200 million granted to victims of six attacks between 2002 and 2004.
In August, WJW reported that lawyers for the PA and PLO said they would appeal and asked that bond requirement be waived.
American courts may also try terrorists under the Antiterrorism Act of 1996 if the victims were American, however Darshan-Leitner charges that the Justice and State Departments are unwilling to get involved in these cases.
During a Feb. 2 hearing in the House Subcommittee on National Security, lawmakers heard testimony from victims of Palestinian violence as well as from Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brad Wiegmann.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) challenged Wiegmann to put together a task force to learn why Justice has not prosecuted any Palestinian suspects.
Sarah Stern, president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, commended the committee for its work.
“These victims of terrorism have become the invisible or disposable Americans whom, for political reasons, our government has decided are not deserving of the same justice as any other American citizen who has been killed,” she wrote in a statement after the hearing.
But others are less than enthusiastic. A profile of Darshan-Leitner in The New York Times last year termed the approach “lawfare, abusing the courts to score political points.”