An appeals court has ordered a district court in Washington to issue a new ruling in a lawsuit filed against Iran and Syria by the parents of a murdered Israeli teen, after the district court judge said the family could only sue for a relatively low amount of compensation because it had endangered itself by living in the West Bank.
The symbolic case was brought to the Columbia district court by Racheli and Avi Fraenkel, both US citizens. Their son Naftali, 16, disappeared in June 2014 along with Gilad Shaer, also 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, after the three inadvertently hitched a ride from a bus stop in the Etzion bloc with terrorists from a Hamas cell.
Their fate was unknown for almost three weeks — until their bodies were found and it emerged that they had been murdered mere hours after the kidnapping.
“We filed the suit to ‘harass the bad guys,'” Racheli Fraenkel told Ynet. “There are many ways to fight terror, and in this case it’s about limiting the economic steps they can take.”
The Fraenkels live in the community of Nof Ayalon in central Israel, which abuts the Green Line close to the city of Modiin.
Fraenkel said she and her husband had filed the lawsuit without expecting to receive any real money given that Iran and Syria were unlikely to pay.
Judge Rosemary Collyer of the district court accepted the family’s right to sue Iran and Syria for their son’s murder, ruling that “Iran and Syria did indeed provide help and resources to Hamas and aided in the kidnapping and murder of Naftali.”
But while noting that Naftali’s death was “a tragedy that no sum can ever compensate for,” she rejected the Fraenkels’ claim for $340 million, ruling that $4.1 million was appropriate.
The Fraenkels appealed the decision and asked Collyer to reconsider.
The judge refused to do so and wrote that, “The plaintiffs took on themselves the risks of living beyond Israel’s Green Line and sending Naftali Fraenkel another 40 km into the West Bank to a high school in Gush Etzion, six km from the city of Hebron.”
Collyer sought to explain her decision to lower the compensation by comparing it to similar cases in the past and noted that Naftali was not chosen by Hamas because he was an American citizen who was “mistakenly caught in the conflict,” but that he and the other two teens were targeted “because they were Jewish and Israeli youths.”
She wrote, “These facts do not diminish the plaintiffs’ grief or loss, but they can influence the assistance available to them when viewed through the lens of civil tort liability.”
Naftali’s mother Racheli Fraenkel called the judge’s response “outrageous.”
She told Ynet, “The children were on their way from school. What responsibility did the boys have for their deaths?”
The family then turned to the federal appeals court together with Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel Law Center — a Tel Aviv-based non-governmental organization whose aim is to put terror organizations and those who support or abet them out of business.
Darshan-Leitner and lawyer Robert Tulchin argued that Collyer’s court had exceeded its authority and included unacceptable considerations in its weighing of the compensation request.
A month ago the appeals court accepted most of the lawyers’ arguments and ordered the case to be sent back to Collyer with instructions that guilt could not be attached to the victim and that the compensation sum should be increased.
Collyer is expected to issue a revised ruling in the near future.