Analysis: Palestinian Leader Marwan Barghouti Makes Dramatic Appearance in Court Protesting His Innocence

All Things Considered: August 14, 2002

Barghouti



MARGOT ADLER, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Margot Adler.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

And I'm John Ydstie.

In Israel today, the most prominent Palestinian leader yet put on trial made a dramatic appearance in court. Marwan Barghouti has been charged with murder and belonging to a terrorist organization. He is the 43-year-old West Bank leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, and one of the most visible and charismatic figures in the Palestinian intifada. NPR's Anne Garrels has this report.

ANNE GARRELS reporting:

Marwan Barghouti's brief appearance in court was the first he'd been seen in public since he was arrested in April during an Israeli incursion into the West Bank. For the past four months, Barghouti says he's been interrogated for hours on end and deprived of sleep. The hearing in a small Tel Aviv courtroom lasted just 20 minutes. Barghouti was accused of managing, financing or instigating 37 attacks in which 26 Israelis were killed and dozens more injured. Israeli officials have said he admitted to these charges during questioning. His lawyers deny this.

Handcuffed and dressed in a brown Israeli prison uniform, Marwan Barghouti was defiant from the start. In Hebrew, Arabic and then English, he protested his innocence, insisting he's a political, not a military leader. Barghouti shouted to reporters that he's a man of peace who still supports a peace deal with Israel.

Mr. MARWAN BARGHOUTI (Palestinian Official): The policy of occupation will not lead for the security! Security will be achieved by one way, by one way, by peace, and peace will be achieved by the end of the occupation! No peace, no security with occupation!

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GARRELS: The judge silenced Barghouti when he stood up and said in Hebrew, a language he learned during earlier imprisonments, that he wanted to present a list of 50 charges against Israel for its occupation of Palestinian territories. His lawyers, in turn, objected when prosecutors read out the charges. They insisted the court had no jurisdiction. Deborah Chen is an Israeli state prosecutor.

Ms. DEBORAH CHEN (Prosecutor): Barghouti is responsible for the murder of hundreds of Israeli citizens and soldiers of Israel. So it's quite obvious that the court in Israel is the authority to get indictment against him.

GARRELS: In the past, Israel has tried Palestinian militants in military courts. By moving Barghouti's case to an open civil court, Barghouti's lawyers accuse the Israeli government of staging a show trial designed to condemn not just Barghouti, but Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority. Dore Gold, an adviser to the Israeli prime minister, says that's just what Israel intends to do.

Mr. DORE GOLD (Adviser to Prime Minister Sharon): Most people who supported the Palestinians in the past were hoping they were dealing with a peaceful organization or they were thinking that Mr. Arafat and the Fatah had become sort of like the ANC in South Africa, you know, Nelson Mandela of the Palestinians, and it isn't so. What happened was they engaged in widespread terrorism.

GARRELS: And he says the case against Barghouti is tight.

Mr. GOLD: We have reams of documents in which he has been allocating and requesting payment of sums of money--$1,000 per terrorist--for operations against Israeli civilians. We have documents with his signature on them. So in this case, I would say the evidence is not based on just intelligence gathering or assessment, it's documentary evidence.

GARRELS: That documentary evidence will only be presented when the trial starts at the beginning of September. If convicted, Barghouti faces life in prison.

Barghouti's popularity has soared during the Palestinian revolt because he's seen by ordinary Palestinians as untainted by allegations of widespread corruption, and it's possible this trial could cement his image as a hero. Anne Garrels, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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