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US court reopens Palestinian lawsuit against billionaire Israel donor Adelson

Sheldon Adelson attends Friends of The Israel Defence Forces (FIDF) gala in California, US on 1 November 2018 [Photo by Shahar Azran/Getty Images]
Sheldon Adelson attends Friends of The Israel Defence Forces (FIDF) gala in California, US on 1 November 2018 [Photo by Shahar Azran/Getty Images]

A US appeals court has reopened a billion-dollar lawsuit against Jewish-American tycoon Sheldon Adelson, which seeks to hold him and more than 30 others liable for war crimes and support of Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (DC) Circuit yesterday voted unanimously in favour of reopening the case, arguing that a federal district judge concluded wrongly in August 2017 that all of the plaintiffs’ claims raised political questions that could not be decided in US courts, Ynet has reported. At the time, the district judge claimed that the lawsuit raised political questions over which the court had no authority, including who has sovereignty over the occupied West Bank, occupied East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip. Yesterday, however, US Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson said that the sovereignty issue was separate from a broader question of whether war crimes were being committed in the oPt, reported Fortune Magazine.

“A legal determination that [illegal] Israeli settlers commit genocide in the disputed territory [oPt] would not decide ownership of the disputed territory and thus would not directly contradict any [US] foreign policy choice,” explained Judge Henderson. The lawsuit, she added, could thus be treated as a “purely legal issue” and, since genocide violates international law, the court could hear the case under America’s Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign citizens to seek remedies in US courts for human rights violations committed outside the United States.

READ: UK government ‘gravely concerned’ about Israeli evictions of Palestinians

The lawsuit is being led by Bassem Al-Tamimi from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh, father of Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi who was jailed for eight months for slapping an Israeli soldier who trespassed on her family’s land. He is one of 18 Palestinians or Palestinian-Americans, as well as a Palestinian village council, who filed the lawsuit, claiming that Adelson and the other defendants conspired to expel non-Jewish communities from the oPt and accusing them of aiding genocide and other war crimes.

The other defendants include a number of high-profile US billionaires and companies with histories of funding or cooperating with Israel. Among them is Jewish-American businessman Larry Ellison – who is known to have donated billions of dollars to the Israeli army via the Friends of the IDF (FIDF) – as well as Elliot Abrams, a vocal critic of former US President Barack Obama’s lukewarm support for Israel’s illegal settlements.

Two major Israeli banks are also involved in the lawsuit — Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim – as well as technology company Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), which the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement accuses of providing technology for Israel’s checkpoints and Separation Wall in the occupied West Bank.

READ: Israel intensifying ‘settlement ring’ around Jerusalem’s Old City, NGO says

Adelson has long been a controversial figure for his support of Israel and involvement in the pro-Israel lobby in the US. Having made his fortune with the Las Vegas Sands Casino, Adelson is estimated to be worth $36.1 billion. He is known to have given $410 million to Birthright, which sends young Jews on trips to Israel, and has donated billions of dollars to the US Republican Party as well as President Donald Trump’s 2016 election and 2018 mid-term campaigns.

The billionaire Adelson is also the owner of Israel Hayom, Israel’s biggest circulation newspaper known for its overt support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel Hayom lies at the heart of Case 2000, one of three corruption cases in which Netanyahu is embroiled. The Prime Minister is being investigated for promising Arnon Mozes – the owner of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aronoth – that he would curtail the circulation of Israel Hayom, Mozes’s main competitor publication, in return for favourable coverage of him and his policies. Netanyahu is also under investigation in two other cases – dubbed Case 1000 and Case 4000 – and is awaiting a decision by Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit as to whether he will be recommended for indictment before the country’s upcoming general election on 9 April.

READ: Israeli settlers attack Palestinian school in West Bank

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