Profile: Marwan Barghouti Convicted of Murder and Membership in a Terrorist Organization

All Things Considered: May 20, 2004

Israeli Court Finds Fatah Leader Guilty of Murder

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

An Israeli court today convicted Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader and lawmaker, of murder. The conviction stems from three separate attacks in 2001 and 2002 that killed four Israelis and a Greek Orthodox monk. The prosecution recommended five consecutive life terms for Barghouti, who is seen by some Palestinians as a potential successor to Yasser Arafat. In the packed courtroom today, a defiant Barghouti declared that Israel had no authority to judge him. NPR's Julie McCarthy was at the Tel Aviv court.

JULIE McCARTHY reporting:

Protesters outside the Tel Aviv court stood behind the police barricades chanting the message that for many Israelis sums up their chief concern.

Unidentified Protesters: (In unison) Stop the terror. Stop the terror. Stop the terror. Stop the terror.

McCARTHY: `Stop the terror,' they shouted, as they brandished banners that read `Peace starts where terror ends.' Defendant Barghouti, dressed in brown prison garb, rose to tell the court today that peace starts where occupation ends. And thus, his trial, with a verdict that stands to put Barghouti in prison for life, symbolizes the seemingly unbridgeable gulf that exists in the way many Israelis see the conflict and how the Palestinians view it.

Marwan Barghouti is the seniormost Palestinian official to be put on trial in Israel. He served as secretary-general of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank with a portfolio that included security. The Israeli court declared that he directed the Fatah militant offshoot, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, funneling them money and weapons. He was found guilty of being a member of the group, which Israel says is a terrorist organization responsible for the killings of hundreds of Israelis. On the graver charge of murder, the court found Barghouti guilty of direct involvement either approving or providing instruction in three instances: an attack in January 2002 on a gas station that killed one Israeli, a botched assault in June 2001 in which a Greek monk was mistakenly killed, and an attack on a Tel Aviv seafood restaurant in March 2002 that killed three people.

The court found Barghouti not guilty on charges related to 33 other attacks, saying, quote, "He did not have direct control over the militants but did wield influence." Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Taub says the acquittal is not surprising.

Mr. DANIEL TAUB (Israeli Foreign Ministry): The higher up the ranks of the terrorist organizations you go, the less likely it is that you're going to find the individual at the scene of the crime with blood on their hands.

McCARTHY: Barghouti has declared time and again that the Palestinian resistance must continue until Israel withdraws from the occupied territories. He openly supports operations against soldiers and settlers in the occupied West Bank, an argument he made again today. `As long as Palestinian mothers are weeping,' Barghouti told the court, `Israeli mothers will also weep. The day of my freedom will come,' he added, `when the Palestinian people are freed from the occupation. I urge the Israeli public,' he said, using the Hebrew he has learned in Israeli jails, `don't believe for one moment that you can overcome the Palestinians with force. Palestinians have no power,' Barghouti declared, `but they have justice on their side.'

Arab-Israeli Knesset member Azmi Bishara said Barghouti does not recognize the authority of the court that has found him guilty, nor, Bishara says, should he.

Mr. AZMI BISHARA (Israeli Knesset Member): It's an occupation court against the occupied. I think it's very clear that the direction of the court here in that case is very clear; they want a life sentence for him. But they know very well, I think--every single one of them know there that at the end they will have to speak to these people, to people like Marwan Barghouti; they will have to make peace with people like Marwan, either to negotiate about him or even to negotiate with him in the future.

McCARTHY: Militants in the Gaza Strip today vowed to kidnap Israeli soldiers in order to exchange them for Marwan Barghouti, who is due to be sentenced June 6th. Julie McCarthy, NPR News.

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