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From the December 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 12)

Marwan Barghouti on Trial

Israel: Trial of Strength

Elisa Ben-Rafael, World Press Review correspondent, Jerusalem

Relatives of Israelis killed by suicide bombers over the course of the Intifada take their rage out on Marwan Barghouti at his trial
Relatives of Israelis killed in terrorist attacks during the most recent Intifada shout at Marwan Barghouti at the Tel Aviv District Court, Oct. 3, 2002 (Photo: AFP). 
In April, Israeli authorities arrested Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti during an Israeli incursion into the West Bank. The charismatic Barghouti, who before the current Intifada was viewed by Israelis as moderate and a supporter of the two-state solution endorsed in the Oslo peace process, is now the defendant in a tumultuous trial that opened Oct. 1 in Tel Aviv.

Barghouti, 42, outspoken and fluent in Hebrew and English, was once considered a partner in the peace talks as well as a likely successor to Arafat. But since the beginning of the second Intifada that erupted in September 2000, Barghouti had granted television interviews after each suicide attack against Israelis, in which he backed the causes of the suicide bombers. He is now on trial for his alleged terrorist actions.

Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council; the secretary-general of the Tanzim, Fatah’s military wing; and it is alleged that he is playing an active role in directing the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. In this last capacity, Barghouti is accused of having assisted in planning numerous terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinians that killed 26 Israelis.

In the formal indictment handed down on Aug. 14, Barghouti was charged with leading and conducting suicide attacks on Israeli targets; murder and attempted murder; and raising funds and providing weapons for suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, and stabbing and shooting attacks, which killed Israeli civilians and soldiers and left hundreds wounded.

Under the headline “The Defense: ‘Barghouti is like Moses,’ ” Ma’ariv reported (Oct. 4) that during the trial in the packed courtroom of the Tel Aviv District Court (which was open to lawyers from abroad and the international press), the defense stressed that Israeli courts did not have jurisdiction to try Barghouti and that this was merely a political showcase.

Barghouti’s Israeli defense attorney, Shamai Leibowitz, portrayed Barghouti as a “freedom fighter” akin to Moses. “Moses escaped to Midian after killing an Egyptian because he knew the occupied could not get justice in the occupier’s courtroom,” Leibowitz was quoted as saying in Ma’ariv (Oct. 4).

This line of defense led to shouting matches inside the courtroom and scuffles outside between outraged Israelis and supporters of the defendant. Relatives of Israelis killed in terrorist attacks screamed “murderer,” and Barghouti countered with “the Intifada will be victorious!”

But State Prosecutor Dvora Chen dismissed the defense’s argument that the trial was staged for purely political reasons. Chen added that she heard no convincing legal argument posed by the defense. She countered with the argument that the interim agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization as a result of the Oslo negotiations in no way prevent Israel from arresting and trying people who live within the Palestinian autonomous areas for crimes carried out in Israel or against Israelis.

Barghouti’s lawyers left the courthouse under heavy guard for fear of getting caught up in violent altercations that spilled into the street between bereaved family members and Barghouti supporters. The heated atmosphere prompted a relative of a murdered Israeli to demand that the court bailiffs and guards separate the two groups for the rest of the proceedings, because “otherwise there could be a murder at the courthouse,” Hatzofeh reported (Oct. 4).

“The image of lawyers escaping the wrath of angry mobs outside the court under cover of bodyguards and police is far from complimentary to the Israeli legal system,” opined Moshe Gorali in an analysis for Ha’aretz (Oct. 4). “It’s doubtful that anyone took those images and the damage they would cause into account when the decision was made to put Barghouti on trial. But those who wanted a political trial are going to get it.”

Commentators on the far left claimed that the outcome of Barghouti’s trial was a fait accompli. Ze’ev Segal, a law professor at Tel Aviv University, writing in Ha’aretz (Oct. 8), argued that the proceedings would produce a widespread international perception that Israel had predetermined the verdict. “Only by allowing the filming of the trial itself and the translation [of the transcripts] will Israel be able to show that justice is indeed being done,” Segal concluded.

Although the Barghouti trial has received the lion’s share of international media attention, Barghouti is not the only Palestinian currently on trial in Israeli courts. Nasser abu Hamid, Nasser Aweis, and Ahmed Barghouti, Marwan Barghouti’s cousin—all regarded by Israeli authorities to be Marwan Barghouti’s deputies—were also arrested in the spring of this year.

All three men have claimed that the courts trying them have no jurisdiction, because in their eyes they are the occupier’s courts, reported Yediot Aharonot (Oct. 8).

Abu Hamid and Aweis have been brought before the Jerusalem District Court on charges similar to those brought against Marwan Barghouti. In the proceedings against Abu Hamid, the accused refused to accept any legal representation. The charges, however, were read in his presence and that of his court-appointed lawyer, reported Ha’aretz on Oct. 9.

Ahmed Barghouti has been charged in military court in Beit El, a settlement in the West Bank, with the killing of 11 Israeli civilians and soldiers. At his hearing on Oct. 14, Ahmed Barghouti’s attorney requested and received a two-week delay in the reading of the charges and the start of the trial.

According to the indictment, Ahmed Barghouti supplied the weapons that were used in the attacks, and he was the military leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, reported Ha’aretz (Oct. 15).

Also on Oct. 15, Ha’aretz quoted Ahmed Barghouti’s lawyer claiming that the Israeli security service had tortured his client, thereby forcing him to admit to the charges brought against him.

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