NEW YORK (AP) — Members of a Long Island family testified Monday that the Sept. 11 attacks and its lesson that terror can happen anywhere persuaded them to cancel a trip to Disney World and instead visit Jerusalem in early 2002, when four of them were seriously injured in a suicide bombing.
Mark Sokolow, a lawyer, and his wife, Rena, testified as lead plaintiffs in a $1 billion lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against Palestinian authorities for six attacks in Israel from 2002 to 2004 that killed or wounded Americans. Their three daughters, two of them hurt in the blast, testified as well.
The defense, representing the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization, denies officials were privy to the attacks. It says victims' experiences are not relevant to the question of responsibility.
Sokolow said he was sitting at his desk on the 38th floor of the World Trade Center's south tower when the north tower was struck on Sept. 11, 2001. He fled the building and discussed the attacks later with his then-18-year-old daughter, Elana.
"She said, 'Dad, you were so worried about sending me to Israel this year and look at what happened in New York,'" he recalled. "I realized she was right. Terrorism can happen anywhere."
Rena Sokolow agreed.
"9/11 basically changed everything," she said. "We thought it would be much more meaningful to take them to Israel. We decided not to go to Disney World."
On the Woodmere family's last day of an eight-day visit, a bomb went off outside a Jerusalem shoe store.
Rena Sokolow said the world seemed to be spinning "like I was in a washing machine," and blood flowed so quickly from a broken leg she thought she would die.
"I looked to my right and saw a severed head of a woman about 3 feet from me," she testified.
Rena Sokolow and her daughter, Jamie Sokolow Fenster, who was 12 when the attacks occurred, dabbed their eyes with tissues during testimony.
The only family member not physically harmed was Elana Sokolow Rosman, who was at school in Israel when the principal told her to rush to the hospital.
Her sister Lauren, her hair sticking out, eyebrows burned off, "looked like she had been electrocuted," she testified. Her youngest sister, Jamie, she said, was almost unrecognizable when she found her in another hospital, her face punctured with what seemed like 1,000 cuts.
When she returned home several months later, Elana Sokolow Rosman said, it was "never the same sort of normal carefree teen experience. I felt guilty if I was having fun."
She said she thinks about it every day.
Lauren Sokolow said loud noises still scare her, and she gets anxious in crowds. Scars across her body are constant reminders, she said.
Still, she said, she returned from a trip to Israel last week when she again visited the blast site.
"It definitely brings back emotions being there," she said. "I keep moving."