Terror Victims Fight Back In Court
By Rochelle Maruch Miller
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner fights terrorism with pen and paper. The Israeli lawyer takes on cases against extremist organizations, engaging in a civil form of guerilla warfare. Her battlefields are Israeli, European, and North American courts.
Ms. Darshan-Leitner, a Tel Aviv-based mother of six, was inspired by a horrific incident that sent shockwaves throughout Israel. In October 2000, two Israelis reservists got lost. Tragically, they ended up in Ramallah, in the West Bank, where they were murdered by a mob. “This mistake cost them their lives,” Ms. Darshan-Leitner says. “We thought in any normal state, the police and the world would be [held] responsible for this horrible lynching, so we were determined to file a lawsuit against the Palestinian Authority to have them compensate the families of the soldiers.”
They ended up winning $20,000. She went on to help found Shurat HaDin–Israel Law Center in 2003. The civil-rights organization aims to stop the flow of terror money by filing massive civil law suits. It is modeled on an Alabama civil-rights center that successfully shut down racial hate groups in the United States in this way.
The pioneering Israeli organization has represented hundreds of victims in cases against Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and the Palestinian Authority. It also takes on countries—Iran, Syria, and North Korea, for example—and financial institutions, such as the Lebanese-Canadian Bank and the Bank of China.
Incredibly, it has lost only one or two cases out of sixty. It has won more than $1 billion in judgments, frozen more than $600 million in terrorist assets, and collected over $120 million in payments.
Ms. Darshan-Leitner is helping victims of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks win justice and fight back by using a new legal tactic, seizing Iranian domain names through American courts. American victims of terror and family members of those who have been injured or killed in attacks sponsored by the Islamic Republic of Iran have moved to attach and seize the Internet licenses, contractual rights, and domain names being provided by the United States to the terrorist regime in Tehran. The families who held unsatisfied American federal court judgments amounting to more than a billion dollars against the Iranian government seek to own all the top-level domain (TLD) names provided by the United States to Iran, including .ir, and all Internet Protocol (IP) addresses being utilized by the Iranian government and its agencies.
The court papers have been served on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an agency of the United States Department of Commerce, which administers the Internet’s domain system—the unique words or phrases that users depend upon to find websites and files on the Internet. Countries are authorized by ICANN to allocate TLDs, making the .ir name belonging to Iran a practical asset. ICANN licenses the TLDs to the various world governments who are then permitted to appoint agents who sell the domain names and their country-specific Internet suffixes to individuals, businesses, and organizations.
The families are represented in this unprecedented civil action by Ms. Darshan-Leitner and by Robert Tolchin of New York.
According to Darshan-Leitner, “This is the first time that terror victims have moved to seize the domain names, IPs, and Internet licenses of terrorism-sponsoring states like Iran and are attempting to satisfy their court judgments. The Iranians must be shown that there’s a steep price to be paid for their sponsorship of terrorism. In business and legal terms it is quite simple: We are owed money, and these assets are currently worth money.”
In cases brought in the United States by terror victims, the district courts have repeatedly ruled that the suicide bombing and shooting attacks perpetrated by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Israel were funded by the Islamic regime through Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence Services (MOIS). However, although the families have received compensatory and punitive damage judgments against the defendants, Iran has refused to set aside the court awards. Iran has been designated by the Department of State as an outlaw nation that has provided material support and resources to terrorist groups worldwide since 1996.
An exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act legislated to assist terror victims in collecting judgments against foreign states abrogates Iran’s sovereign immunity in claims arising from acts of terrorism and subjects to attachment “the property of a foreign state . . . and the property of an agency or instrumentality of such a state, including property that is a separate juridical entity or is an interest held directly or indirectly in a separate juridical entity.”
According to Baruch Ben-Haim, whose son Shlomo was severely injured in a 1995 terrorist bombing of an Israeli bus, “It’s not right that the U.S. government would provide these licenses to Iran while it is refusing to pay off the judgments handed down for funding global terrorism. The federal court awards given to our families must be satisfied.”
Ms. Darshan-Leitner said, “For years, the Iranian government has refused to pay its judgments, thumbing its nose at these terror victims and the American court system. Our clients continue to suffer from the suicide bombing that Iran financed in Jerusalem 17 years ago. It is not our intention to shut down Iran’s Internet usage, but we want what is rightfully due. If by seizing any funds earned from the licenses and contractual rights we can satisfy the judgments, we will have served our clients. We remain committed to helping these American families.” v