February 19, 2019
By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court has revived a $1 billion lawsuit by Palestinians seeking to hold billionaire Sheldon Adelson and more than 30 other pro-Israel defendants liable for alleged war crimes and support of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
In a 3-0 decision on Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said a federal district judge wrongly concluded in August 2017 that all of the plaintiffs’ claims raised political questions that could not be decided in American courts.
The plaintiffs, including 18 Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans as well as a Palestinian village council, alleged a conspiracy among many defendants to expel non-Jews from the disputed territories, and accused the defendants of committing or aiding in genocide and other war crimes.
Other defendants included the billionaire Larry Ellison, Bank Leumi BM and Bank Hapoalim BM, construction and support companies such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co and Volvo AB, 13 nonprofits, and the United States.
The lawyer for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A lawyer for the individual, nonprofit and corporate defendants, as well as the U.S. Department of Justice, did not immediately respond to similar requests.
In dismissing the case, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan in Washington had said it was “inappropriate” for her to resolve the issue of the settlements, because it was “close to the heart of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and central to the United States’ foreign policy decision-making in the region.”
But in Tuesday’s decision, without ruling on the merits, Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson said the only political question concerned who had sovereignty over the Israeli-occupied territories.
She said courts could rule on whether the defendants conspired to expel non-Jews or committed war crimes “without touching the sovereignty question, if it concluded that Israeli settlers are committing genocide.”
Henderson said that presented a “purely legal issue” because genocide violated the law of nations, and could support the plaintiffs’ claim under the federal Alien Tort Statute.
Adelson is the chief executive of casino company Las Vegas Sands Corp. Ellison is the chairman of Oracle Corp, the database software company he co-founded.
The case is Al-Tamimi et al v Adelson et al, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 17-5207.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Tom Brown)