The Robert and Deborah Aliber Persian Gallery at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. Photo: the University of Chicago.

Supreme Court Rules Victims of Jerusalem Bombing Cannot Seize Artifacts from Museums

The US Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday, February 21 that Americans who were injured in a 1997 Hamas suicide bombing in Jerusalem cannot seize Persian cultural artifacts from Chicago museums as compensation for a $71.5 million judgment that Iran defaulted on.

According to Kevin Lessmiller of Courthouse News, the 8-0 judgment ends the legal battle, which has been waged by eight severely injured US citizens. In 2003, the victims of the bombings and their families sued Iran under the terrorism exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which protects foreign governments from lawsuits filed in the US, in a federal court in Washington, DC, and won. They were supposed to receive $71.5 million, but Iran failed to pay, which prompted the plaintiffs to attempt to seize objects loaned by Iran to the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute and the Field Museum of Natural History.

While the plaintiffs have argued that Iran is complicit in its sponsorship of Hamas—the country has been known to supply the group with weapons—the court ultimately decided US citizens who were victims of terrorism don’t have the right to seize foreign property. The attack occurred on the Ben Yehuda promenade, a pedestrian mall in Jerusalem, on September 5, 1997. Three suicide bombers killed five people and wounded 181 others.