Palestinian uprising leader mocks Israeli court's power

Friday, September 6, 2002

TEL AVIV, Israel -- During the tumultuous opening of his trial, a leader of the Palestinian uprising told an Israeli court Thursday that it did not have the right to prosecute him because he is an elected political figure, not a criminal.

Marwan Barghouti, 43, is the most senior Palestinian to be tried by Israel. He said he is representing himself to underscore claims that the court does not have jurisdiction.

"There's a mistake here. The one who should be sitting here is the government of Israel," Barghouti, wearing a dark brown prison uniform, told the three-judge panel in fluent Hebrew. "You have no right to try me."

Barghouti, who has grown a dark beard in five months of detention, also said he was a fighter for peace.

When Presiding Judge Sarah Zerota commented that "fighters for peace don't plant bombs," Barghouti responded: "I don't want to get into that."

Israel accuses Barghouti, leader of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank, of having orchestrated terror attacks that killed 26 Israelis, ranging in age from 8 months to 79 years.

Daniel Taub, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official, said the trial "is first and foremost about justice ... for the victims of terrorism."

Barghouti has said he supports driving Israel out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by force, but that he has not been personally involved in attacks.

In the hallway outside the courtroom, there were scuffles and shouting matches between Jewish and Arab spectators.

Several relatives of victims of shooting and bombing attacks claimed by a Fatah-affiliated militia, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, were in the courtroom. Zion and Etti Ben-Shalom held up large framed photos of their son, Yaniv, who was killed with his wife, Sharon, in August 2001 in an ambush on their car.

At one point, Zion Ben-Shalom interrupted Barghouti's opening statement, shouting: "Freedom fighters fight soldiers, not women and children!"

Three of Barghouti's four children -- Sharaf, 13; Arab, 12; and Ruba, 15 -- were also present, and he waved at them as they called "Dad, Dad."

Avigail Levy, who lost her 17-year-old daughter, Rachel, in a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem supermarket in March, sat near Barghouti's children. At one point, she told them: "Look what your father did. Your father is a murderer."

Israel's crimes

Barghouti has said he would use the proceedings to draw the world's attention to what he described as Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, committed during 35 years of military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel, in turn, was expected to try to show a link between Arafat's Palestinian Authority and attacks on Israelis by Palestinian militias. Barghouti has been described by Israeli prosecutors as a liaison between Arafat and the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade.

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