Tunisia-born Jewish Lawyer Says She Will Defend Barghouti

Gisele Halimi, a Tunisia-born Jewish lawyer who made a name for herself by defending Algerians fighting French rule, said Saturday she will represent Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti during his trial in Israel on terror charges.

Halimi, 75, said at a press conference in Jerusalem that she met Friday with Barghouti in prison for an hour and he agreed that she should defend him at his next court appearance, on Oct 3.

Halimi, who is French, said the Israeli charges are not backed by evidence. "Who is Marwan? What has he said? What has he written?" she asked. "We can't talk here of any real proof or facts."

During a brief but stormy court appearance on Thursday, Barghouti represented himself and challenged the Tel Aviv court's right to try him, saying he is being prosecuted for his political activities. He pointed out that he is a member of the Palestinian parliament and that he was captured in the West Bank, outside Israeli jurisdiction.

Israel says it has evidence linking Barghouti to the murder of Israelis and therefore has the right to try him.

Barghouti, 43, leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement in the West Bank, is the most senior Palestinian to be tried by Israel. He is charged with organizing attacks that killed 26 people, ranging in age from 8 months to 79 years.

Barghouti denies personal involvement in attacks, describing himself as a political leader.

Halimi, with French colleague Daniel Voguet and Barghouti's local attorney Jawad Boulos, met Saturday with Palestinian Parliament Speaker Ahmed Queria (Abu Ala) and leading Palestinian moderate Sari Nusseibeh, the top Palestine Liberation Organization official in Jerusalem, to discuss Barghouti's case.

They said they will brief the French government on the details.

Halimi is known in France as a lawyer and feminist who also served as a lawmaker and regional politician in the early 1980s. She has written numerous books, some based on cases she tried.

In Barghouti's defense, she quoted work he submitted for a master's degree in political science in 1998 where he speaks of "two peoples, two free and independent states."

Barghouti lawyers say will appeal Israeli jurisdiction to try Tanzim leader Earlier Saturday, Barghouti's attorneys said that they would appeal Israeli jurisdiction to try their client, Army Radio reported. "To try Barghouti is the same as putting the entire Palestinian nation and its policies and leaders to trial," they said, calling it a "political trial."

On Friday, MK Mohammad Barakeh (Hadash) asked the President of the Supreme Court, Justice Aharon Barak, to disqualify the head of the panel of judges who are presiding over Barghouti's trial.

Barakeh asked Barak on Friday to disqualify Judge Sara Sirota because of comments she made Thursday at the start of the trial.

According to Barakeh, Sirota's comment that, "Peace activists do not turn children into bombs and kill people," effectively passed judgement on Barghouti even before his trial had begun. Sirota made the comment in response to a statement by Barghouti that, "the Israeli government is waging a war of genocide, and I am a freedom fighter for peace between the two peoples." Sirota also criticized Barghouti for his disrespectful tone. "You are shouting and your behavior is that of someone from the market, not that of a leader."

Barakeh's move to have one of the judges disqualified is irregular since such a request would typically be submitted by one of the parties involved in the case and given to the judge who is being challenged. If that judge were to refuse to disqualify himself, the petitioner could then appeal to the president of the Supreme Court.

According to Barakeh, the question of Barghouti's responsibility for terror attacks should be determined by the court during the trial. He added that by expressing her opinion before the trial had even begun, Sirota made the entire trial superfluous.

The member of Knesset claims that the trial itself is nothing more that a political show trial and that Israel has no right to try Barghouti. Since the trial has already begun, he continued, he was asking for Sirota to be disqualified. Barghouti himself also claimed that he has immunity from being put on trial in Israel, by virtue of the agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.