Palestinian terror lawsuit touches rural Pa. town
Sunday, December 4, 2011
PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Palestine Liberation Organization had a document to deliver, and it arrived at a small church in western Pennsylvania in early November.
About 700 people had gathered to hear Mosab Hassan Yousef, a Christian convert and author of the popular book “Son of Hamas.” A man and a teenager wandered backstage, had their books autographed, and then handed Yousef a subpoena.
Yousef, the estranged son of a top Hamas militant, was once a spy for Israel. He posed as a terrorist in that role, and met with Yasser Arafat and other leaders at the heart of the Palestinian resistance. His Nov. 4 appearance at the Chippewa Evangelical Free Church in Beaver Falls was part of his efforts to send a different message — one of forgiveness — about violence in the Middle East.
But the PLO subpoena served on Yousef in the church about 40 miles northwest of Pittsburgh put him in a difficult situation.
The PLO wants him to hand over all unpublished notes from his book, and all details of his work with the Israeli government, including money he received. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster, who’s based in Pittsburgh, ordered Yousef to comply with the order within five days. The order was first reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Last year, the U.S. granted political asylum to Yousef, who has said that he’ll be killed if he’s forced to return to the Palestinian territories.
The legal maneuvering is part of a lawsuit filed against the PLO in U.S. District Court in New York by victims and family members of seven terrorist attacks. The lawsuit claims that the PLO was complicit in the attacks, and thus liable for damages. The PLO said in its court filings that it served Yousef in Pennsylvania because it couldn’t find him elsewhere.
But can a civil lawsuit force someone to turn over details of how they worked with an intelligence organization to prevent terrorist attacks?
“There’s no clear-cut answer in the law,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania.
Walczak said that Yousef can argue that he has a type of journalist’s privilege not to reveal sources, but the fact that his book is autobiographical may complicate that argument.
Yousef’s book agent said he wasn’t available to speak about the issue.
Tom Copeland, a professor at Geneva College in Beaver Falls who studies terrorism and national security policy, read Yousef’s book last year and helped arrange several speaking engagements for him last month, including the church appearance where the PLO served the subpoena.
From a legal standpoint, Copeland said, it’s clear that the PLO would be at a disadvantage if it couldn’t question Yousef, since information in his book is being used against the organization.
There’s little question Yousef has plenty of information.
“Yes, while working for Israeli intelligence, I posed as a terrorist,” Yousef wrote on his blog last year. “Yes, I carried a gun. Yes, I was in terrorist meetings with Yasser Arafat, my father and other Hamas leaders. It was part of my job.”
The PLO said in a court filing that it is seeking documents from Yousef because they may show that he’s biased against the PLO.
But Copeland said there are questions beyond the legal ones. Former CIA Director James Woolsey called Yousef a “remarkable young man” who should be commended for “extraordinary heroism and courage.” Some members of Congress supported his application for asylum.
“There’s a moral obligation to defend those who are trying to stop terrorism,” Copeland said, noting Yousef did that.
Israeli media have reported that Yousef helped prevent numerous terrorist attacks and saved hundreds of lives. And Christian churches and leaders have embraced his belief that forgiveness is the only path to peace in the Middle East.
Copeland said both his students and others were impressed by Yousef’s talk at the church in early November.
“He’s seen the Palestinian debate from all sides. His words carry a certain weight,” said Copeland.
But Copeland said he can’t think of any other legal cases involving terrorism quite like the situation Yousef is in.
If Yousef ignores the federal judge’s order, he could face more legal problems. But if he turns over details of his work with Israeli intelligence, that could put him — and others — in more danger. Yousef’s father, the Hamas leader, has disowned him, and many Palestinians condemn anyone who works with the Israeli government.
Israel’s security services routinely try to recruit Palestinians of all factions as informers, including those in prisons, by using blackmail or promising benefits, such as work or travel permits.
Copeland said he believes Yousef’s message and intent is genuine.
“What my students took away was not that he was either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian,” but that the resolution of conflict will be a spiritual one, not a political one.
Few people involved with the legal case want to comment.
A spokesman at the Israeli Embassy took questions but didn’t respond with a statement. A Washington lawyer who represents the PLO didn’t respond to questions, nor did the PLO delegation in Washington.
But one of the victims who filed the original lawsuit against the PLO and his lawyer did agree to talk.
Alan Bauer, one of the plaintiffs, was injured with his son in a March 2002 terror bombing in Israel that killed three people and wounded 87 others.
“Our goal has been to hold those involved in the attack responsible,” said Bauer, who spoke from Jerusalem.
Robert Tolchin, a New York City lawyer, said the PLO’s defense is that Hamas was behind the attacks mentioned in the lawsuit, but Yousef’s book suggests the PLO was involved, too.
Bauer said he’s seeking “simple, pure justice” for his son and other victims.
“I won’t rest until I see it,” Bauer said.
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