When 12 Iranian Jews went missing after trying to flee into Afghanistan in the 1990s, their families visited every jail, prison and hospital in Iran in an unsuccessful attempt to find their missing relatives, attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner said.
After giving up the search and receiving no information from the Iranian government, the families received hope in the form of a neighbor, who on business, received a tour of an Iranian prison and discovered that one of the missing was being held in a cell 10 floors below ground.
In 2006, Darshan-Leitner and her nonprofit law firm, Shurat HaDin — Israel Law Center, filed a lawsuit against the government on behalf of the families, but they had to serve the court papers to an Iranian official in the U.S.
Later, they learned that Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami was scheduled to speak before the United Nations in Virginia. Further, they discovered his itinerary included a dinner for the Council of Islamic-American Relations the following night.
For $400, patrons could attend the event and have dinner. For an additional $400, they could have their photo taken with Khatami. Shurat HaDin hired an ex-police officer, who they equipped with the court papers and $800, to attend. At last, it was the former officer’s turn for his photo opportunity.
“He stood near Khatami, handed him the papers [and] told him the families of 12 missing Iranian-Jews are suing him in court,” Darshan-Leitner recalled. “As Khatami took the papers, the photographer took the photo. …The police officer and his wife did not stay for dinner.”
Khatami failed to attend a court hearing, and Shurat HaDin is anticipating a court decision in the case any day. To date, the 12 missing people have not been released, and the Iranian government has released no information about them.
But to Darshan-Leitner, the message to the government was clear: outside the confines of their home countries, private lawyers and other entities will seek legal repercussions for officials’ crimes against humanity.
That has been the standard for Shurat HaDin since it opened in Tel Aviv in 2003. The organization aims to bankrupt terrorism by fighting the terrorist organizations and their supporters or facilitators using laws passed by Western countries that allow terror victims to sue such groups.
On Wednesday, Darshan-Leitner gave an update on how her firm’s anti-terrorism efforts were faring during the 6th Annual Evening of Jewish Heroism, hosted by Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, a youth empowerment organization.
Bnei Akiva volunteer Vic Nellon referenced Darshan-Leitner’s “unbelievable accomplishments” that have led to $1 billion in judgments, $120 million in recoveries for terror victims and $600 million in frozen terrorist assets, which is five times more than the U.S. government has frozen.
“To be perfectly blunt, appealing to the moral and ethical sensibilities of multi-national companies and international financial institutions and insurance companies is, to say the least, ineffective,” Nellon said. “But the ‘chilling effect’ of Shurat HaDin’s lawsuits has been to essentially cut off the flow of terrorist funding organizations via Western financial institutions because they’re too afraid to do it. It doesn’t pay for them to do it.”
Darshan-Leitner said several countries, such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, fund organizations that believe terrorism is the key to destroying the Jewish state of Israel.
“They ambush us and shoot us,” she said. “They slaughter our kids in the street. And there is no end in sight.”
The attorney said that, during the first years of the Intifada, some European and Arab banks decided that they would support terrorist organizations and allow them to transfer money to the Gaza Strip or Samaria. Some even started rewards programs for the families of suicide bombers, Darshan-Leitner said.
However, some of the banks had branches in New York, meaning that they are within the United States’ jurisdiction, she said. So, Shurat HaDin filed a lawsuit against the banks on behalf of victims’ families, seeking billions in compensation.
“The first thing these banks did was try to close their branches in New York,” Darshan-Leitner said, adding that the banks tried to have the lawsuit dismissed, but the request was denied. “The banks will have to compromise, or we’ll be going to trial. And it’s going to be a jury trial. …We take these cases against the banks to the end because we can win the cases. We take them until the end because of the terror victims that we’re representing who deserve justice.”
She said the bank lawsuit sent a shockwave through the international banking system. Now, no banks open accounts for terrorist organizations, no banks agree to provide banking services to charities affiliated with terrorist organizations and banks no longer operate in Gaza.
Without banking services, terrorists have been forced to smuggle hundreds of millions of dollars using suitcases and tunnels — making missiles, bullets and guns five times more expensive than on the free market, Darshan-Leitner said.
“If you cut the funding, you can cut the terrorism,” she said. “If you stop the flow of the money, you stop the flow of the terrorism. These organizations need funds, they need the money, they need the facilities. They cannot do without it.”
Darshan-Leitner also spoke of the lawsuit Shurat HaDin filed against the Bank of China, which allowed Hamas to use its services because China did not designate Hamas as a terrorist organization. So, the law firm filed a $1 billion suit against the bank on behalf of 86 terror victims.
“This lawsuit drove the Chinese crazy,” Darshan-Leitner said, adding that the bank sent personal letters threatening libel suits, saying that the firm had destroyed the bank’s reputation. “This is why none of us are going to China any time soon. But we will not stop talking about the lawsuit.”
She also mentioned the firm’s successful attempt to prevent a second Gaza flotilla raid. With 15 ships and 1,500 people planning to set sail, the firm sent warning letters to maritime insurance companies and a satellite communications company, saying that the companies were aiding and abetting terrorist organizations, Darshan-Leitner said. As a result, the companies pulled the insurance and communications systems, and the flotilla was canceled, she said.
“Every day, we get more and more calls from more and more terror victims who want to fight back, who are seeking justice, who, more than anything else in the world, don’t want to be victims anymore,” Darshan-Leitner added. “And we are dedicated to help them. …We’re doing it because government cannot do what we do. Governments cannot file lawsuits against other governments, banks or terrorism organizations. They have political constraints and special interests and foreign relations that they have to take into consideration. We don’t. We are private lawyers who represent private people who have one goal — to bankrupt terrorism one lawsuit at a time.”
She said the firm is sick and tired of watching parents identify their children by their dental records, of watching parents preside over their children’s funerals, of watching terrorists smile in court and assure victory.
“Between them and us, we will win,” Darshan-Leitner said, eliciting a flurry of applause.
For information, visit www.israellawcenter.org or www.bneiakivala.org.
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