Last week, on the evening of Sept. 11, a lawyer named Mark Werbner stood outside his hotel in Brooklyn and looked across the East River at the blue lights commemorating the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001. Werbner, who is from Dallas, was in New York because he represents American victims of Hamas bombings and shootings during the second Palestinian Intifada. Since early August, he and his co-counsel have been trying the victims’ claims against Jordan’s Arab Bank, which they accuse of financing the Hamas terror operations. As he looked at the blue lights, Werbner told jurors Thursday during closing arguments in the Arab Bank trial, he stepped back and asked himself whether the 10 years of work he’d put into the case had accomplished anything.
“What am I doing here? What difference will it make?” he told jurors. “You know what’s going on in the world since then. It’s not any better. You know what we’re facing.”
I’ve asked myself the same question, after watching portions of the Arab Bank trial over the past six weeks. For all of the dogged investigation, numbing research and considerable expense that the victims’ lawyers have devoted to their case against Arab Bank, militants – including those from Hamas – are still finding ways to finance operations targeting civilians. Even as lawyers in this case argued in whispered sidebars in an air-conditioned courtroom in Brooklyn over the admission of pieces of evidence from an uprising that ended a decade ago, the Islamic State was putting out videos of its merciless beheadings of American journalists and a British aid worker. The 11 jurors who’ve endured long weeks of a multilingual, document-intensive trial must also have wondered: Can private litigation against a bank prevent terrorism?
The four lawyers who spoke Thursday for the plaintiffs in the Arab Bank case assured them that it can – that the message they send with their verdict will force international banks to do more than check wire transfers against terrorism blacklists. If jurors find Arab Bank liable for processing about $73 million that allegedly propped up Hamas operations in the Second Intifada, the lawyers said, banks around the world will be on notice that they’re responsible for actively policing against financing terror.
“We all have a role to play, to prevent terrorism, every one of us,” said Michael Elsner of Motley Rice. “We are interlinked, interdependent. We need to be together to stop this. It just can’t be that we can only act when a government says, ‘You have to act now.’ It can’t be that we only do it when the computer gives us an alert.”