new york | Paul Kurzberg, an Israeli from Pardess Hanna, was in the office of his New Jersey moving company on Sept. 11, 2001, when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
Like many Israeli movers in the New York area, Kurzberg, who was in his late 20s, was not legally authorized to work in the United States.
But on Sept. 11, that thought was distant from his mind as he and his friends piled into a company van after the second plane hit the World Trade Center to find a better vantage point to photograph the historic terrorist attack.
It proved to be a critical mistake.
Caught in a traffic jam near the George Washington Bridge, which connects northern New Jersey to Manhattan, the Israelis hailed a police officer to ask directions to Brooklyn. The cops pulled the five Israelis from the vehicle, drew their guns and ordered the men to lie on the ground, according to the Israelis’ account.
It was the beginning of a nearly two-month ordeal, the Israelis said, that landed them first in a local jail and then in solitary confinement in a Brooklyn prison, subjected them to physical and verbal abuse and ended in their deportation to Israel.
Now four of the Israelis are suing, demanding justice and compensation in a lawsuit filed Monday, Sept. 13, against U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and a host of wardens, police officers and corrections officers involved in their arrest and imprisonment.
“The infamous arrest of these young Israelis on 9/11 has been used by anti-Semites worldwide as ‘proof’ of Israel’s involvement in the World Trade Center attack,” said Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the Israeli lawyer representing the four Israeli plaintiffs.
“Our clients are seeking compensation for the harm they suffered in the Metropolitan Detention Center by prison officials,” she said.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, alleges that the Israelis were arrested without probable cause; subjected to harsh and unreasonable conditions; penalized for trying to observe Jewish traditions and were held far longer than necessary.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice, Charles Miller, declined to comment, saying, “Our response would be filed in court.”
A spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons did not respond to a request for comment.