Beating the Terrorists in Court

Beating the Terrorists in Court

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner explains her legal strategy

By Tova Norman

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner fights terrorism.

Through her Tel Aviv-based organization, Shurat HaDin, the Israeli mother of six works with Western intelligence agencies, law enforcement branches and a network of volunteers around the world to file legal actions against terrorists, those who support them and those who threaten the Jewish state.

Inspired by the pro bono cases she handled as a law student, Darshan-Leitner and her friends started the organization 12 years ago.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner leads Shurat HaDin: Israel Law Center.
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner leads Shurat HaDin: Israel Law Center.

Named by The Jerusalem Post as one of the 50 most influential Jews in 2014 and by The Algemeiner as one of the Top 10 living Jewish female role models in 2015, Darshan-Leitner is known as an expert at using the courts against terrorism.

Her organization has won judgments worth hundreds of millions of dollars, including a jury award of $655 million in February 2015 against the Palestinian Authority for support of deadly attacks during the second intifada.

On Tuesday, March 15, the Jewish Women’s Connection of Atlanta is offering the Jewish community the opportunity to hear Darshan-Leitner speak.

She spoke to the AJT by phone.

AJT: Many of your cases seem to be trying to get money from terrorist organizations. Why do you go after the money?

NDL: The goal of the litigation and the goal of the organization is to go after terror funding. If there is no money, there will be no terrorism. So we went after those who fund the terror organizations and those who are aiding and abetting them. When we get judgment, we are able to collect assets and to make their lives much harder financially.


AJT: What has been your greatest success?

NDL: I think the greatest success was the recent victory against the Palestinian Authority of $665 million on behalf of 10 families. We filed the suit in 2004, and last year we went to trial. … That was the first time that such a type of case went before a jury. There was a big risk, but there also was a big hope that finally a New York jury will find the PA responsible for the attacks of the intifada. The decision made the front page of The New York Times and was covered by international media.


AJT: What has been your greatest challenge in doing this work?

NDL: Actually every step of the way is a big challenge. When you look at it, even the simple fact of serving the lawsuit to the defendant, sometimes it’s mission impossible. If you want to serve Hezbollah, which person can be served and your service will be considered lawful? And if you want to serve banks, they hire the best lawyers in the country, so you find yourself against the biggest shark.

When you win a judgment and you want to execute it, where can you find money or buildings or any kind of asset that belongs to terror organizations who themselves try to escape from the law?


AJT: How do you keep motivated with all these challenges?

NDL: In the end of the day when you come to a family of terror victims that lost their loved one and you give them a victory, and sometimes you can even give them a significant amount of money that will give them some hope to start all over again … and they say to you that they get revenge, that now loved ones actually received justice. That keeps me going.

And also the fact that nobody else can do this work. Governments cannot do the work that we do. The Israeli government cannot file lawsuits against terrorist groups or other countries and can’t defend themselves in international court. There is nobody else to do it, so we have to keep going.


AJT: Now that terrorism is more international, has your role as a group changed?
NDL: We have cases that do not necessarily have to do with Israel and Jews, just because we have the experience, knowledge and reputation. A lot of victims from around the world go to us.


AJT: Do you feel like your work can be complete? If so, what would that mean?

NDL: I wish. When Arafat died, and the terror attacks kind of started to die down, we thought, “Here. Now there will be an end to our work. We’re going to finish pending cases, and we’ll close the organization and go home peacefully.”

As a country that lives with hostile neighbors around hostile organizations and us, our work will probably not come to an end as soon as we expect it.


AJT: Is there anything else you think our readership should know about you and Shurat HaDin?

NDL: Our work is basically a way for the private sector to fight back, and a lot of people who are not necessarily lawyers can join this fight, can spread the word, can support this organization, can come on our missions and can take part in a conference.

Israel faces a lot of challenges and faces a lot of threats. It is up to the Jewish community around the world to step up and fight back and defend Israel with all means they have. And the legal aspect is one of them.

Who: Nitsana Darshan-Leitner

Where: Atlanta Jewish Academy, 5200 Northland Drive, Sandy Springs

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 15

Tickets: $25 ($10 more for two hours of continuing legal education credit);

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