Tel Aviv District Court yesterday found Palestinian Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti guilty of the murder of a number of civilians during the intifada and set sentencing for June 6.
A panel of three judges, Sarah Sirota, Amiram Benyamini and Avraham Tal, convicted Barghouti of the murder of Yula Hen, shot dead at a Givat Ze'ev gas station in January 2002, and of a Greek Orthodox priest near Ma'aleh Adumim in June 2002.
Barghouti was also convicted of direct responsibility for the murders of Yosef Havi, Elyahu Dahan, and the police officer Selim Barichat, in the shooting attack against the Sea Food Market restaurant in Tel Aviv in March 2002.
Barghouti was also held responsible for the attempt by suicide bombers to detonate an explosives laden vehicle at the Malcha Mall in Jerusalem. The attempt failed and the two would-be suicide bombers died when their vehicle exploded prematurely.
The court exonerated Barghouti of most of the charges against him. He had been charged with direct responsibility for 37 attacks resulting in the deaths of scores of people.
The prosecution convinced the court of Barghouti's direct responsibility in only three terror attacks. In most cases the court concluded the attacks were carried out at the behest of local leaders of the paramilitary Tanzim. Although affiliated with Barghouti, the official head of the organization, no proof was brought to link the defendant with the decisions.
Following his conviction in the murder of five persons, the prosecuting attorney, Dvora Hen, head of the Security Affairs department at the State Prosecutor's office, asked the court to sentence Barghouti to five consecutive life-terms in prison. In addition she requested that he be given the maximum sentence for his membership in a terrorist organization.
Barghouti entered the courtroom accompanied by police officers, waving to his supporters, among them Arab MKs Ahmed Tibi, Azmi Bishara and Muhammad Barakeh.
Responding to the verdict, Barghouti rejected the authority of the Israeli court to try him as a member of the Palestinian parliament. Barghouti also criticized the judges and their capacity to rule independently, accusing them of "receiving instructions from the security services." He warned that while Palestinians have no state of their own, there can be no peace.
The judges decision not to attribute direct responsibility to Barghouti for most of the attacks carried out by the Tanzim was justified on the basis of the legal structure which prevents the conviction of a leader of a terrorist organization for acts carried out by members of the group, if he himself is not directly involved.
The judges noted that this applied even though it may be known that the leader of the organization gave his blessing to carrying out the crimes and provided his associates with the financial wherewithal to carry out attacks. They said the law was far from satisfactory, but they were bound by the rule of law.
The panel of judges said Barghouti opposed attacks inside the Green Line on principle, but in practice he did not stop supporting his associates or helping them by providing them with funds and military supplies, even when he was told that attacks were scheduled to take place inside Israel.
Barghouti, the judges said, did not have full control over the members of the Tanzim cells, but he had significant influence on them and could instruct them to cease or restart their attacks, on the basis of orders received from Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat.
In their conclusions, the judges said Barghouti used to receive reports of the attacks carried out by his associates only after they were completed. This was an effort to preserve his image as a political leader not involved in armed attacks against Israelis.