Nitsana Darshan-Leitner: Throwing the Book at Terrorism
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner: Throwing the Book at Terrorism

In 1998, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, a young law school student at Bar Ilan University, stood before Israel’s High Court of Justice. As she presented her petition, her heart felt as if it would leap from her chest. The state, she asserted, should be ordered to arrest Abu Abbas, the Palestinian terrorist who brutally murdered American businessman Leon Klinghoffer during the hijacking of an Italian cruise ship in 1985. Although Italian and American authorities held warrants for Abbas’ arrest, he was granted protection as part of the Oslo peace accords. “Abbas has abandoned terror,” the judges claimed, “and he now supports the peace process.”

But Nitsana never cowered. “Since Leon Klinghoffer’s blood is crying out from the ground,” she declared, “we will not withdraw the petition.”

In that instant, Nitsana decided she would devote her career to winning justice for victims of terror. Today, she is founder and director of Shurat HaDin—the Israel Law Center, an organization in Israel which represents terror victims against organizations, banks, and states which support terrorism. Her vigilance has won million dollar judgments against terrorist organizations. “There’s no doubt,” says Nitsana, “that these judgments hurt them a lot.” We met with Nitsana in her Ramat Gan office, eager to hear her take the stand on fighting terror.

BABA: Shalom, Nitsana. What is it like to meet families of terror victims?

NITSANA: It’s very difficult and emotional. No amount of money will bring back their loved ones,but we give them hope that perhaps they will be able to rehabilitate their lives a little. By fighting back, we show victims that they can deliver a blow against those who destroyed their lives. Also, we achieve an important goal: neutralizing terrorist abilities to carry out attacks.

BABA: Do terror victims actually receive money from these judgments?

NITSANA: Sometimes they receive money, but essentially, we are chasing invisible money. By that I mean, financial judgments against terror organizations allow us to seize their property and freeze their bank accounts. When we do that, terrorists can no longer use those resources for financing terror.

BABA: How do you find the courage to stand up to authority?

NITSANA: I think courage comes when one sees the limitations and the inability of the state to act. Sometimes neither the army nor the government has all the answers, and then private individuals or organizations must fight Israel’s enemies. I have learned that if you see that someone has been wronged and you can help, you must do so—even if it means taking on the greatest and the most wicked. My experience shows that there is no reason to be afraid of doing so, and one can succeed. Having faith in God helps us face Israel’s enemies, and there is no doubt that God stands by us and helps us succeed.

BABA: Do you see your work as similar to the Maccabees’ fight against the mighty?

NITSANA: It’s hard for me to compare myself to the great heroism of the Maccabees, but we are definitely the few against the great. The fact that we can force large, powerful countries to pay millions of dollars to individual victims of terror is an enormous victory. Maybe it’s symbolic, but I live in Hashmonaim, the same area where the Maccabees fought.

BABA: Thank you, Nitsana, and hag urim sameah!

Standing Up to Authority

Shurat HaDin doesn’t only sue terror organizations; to protect Israeli civilians, Nitsana sometimes sues the Israeli government officials. Here is a case from March 2008.

People of Sderot, Plaintiff
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud
Barak, Defendants

For eight years, residents of Sderot have suffered continuous Kassam rocket attacks from nearby Gaza. The bombardment has caused casualties, loss of property, and terrible trauma. The Israeli government has failed to find an effective response to these daily barrages and to adequately protect
its citizens.

Plaintiffs demand that the Israel Defense Forces immediately employ the “Nautilus” laser-guided, anti-missile system to defend Sderot against Palestinian rocket attacks. The system is currently used in the United States and can be stationed near Sderot within six months for $5 million. Plaintiffs fur ther contend that failure to deploy the “Nautilus” system reflects gross negligence on the par t of the prime minister and the defense minister.

To be determined by the Supreme Court of Israel.