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Palestinian patriot, Marwan Barghouti, is on trial before a three judge panel court in Tel Aviv. Israel has charged him with organizing terrorist attacks that have killed 26 people.
This saga actually started over two years ago. Then, the scheming Ariel Sharon made a deliberately provocative visit to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a site sacred to Muslims, that holds the Noble Sanctuary and the Al Aqsa mosque. He was candidate for prime minister at that time. When Palestinians protested his arrogance, four demonstrators were shot dead by the Israeli police. The horrific violence that followed has left more than 600 Israelis and 1,500 Palestinians killed, the vast majority innocent civilians. It has made a wasteland, too, out of many Palestinian villages and towns, like Jenin. And, it has left permanent scars on Bethlehem, one of the holiest sites in Christendom. It has also brought the terror of suicide bombings to Israel Proper.
In order to shift the responsibility for sparking this carnage from Sharon’s outrageous conduct and its own ongoing brutal 35-year old occupation, Israel has opted for a political show trial. A conviction in Barghouti’s case, tying him to the suicide bombing attacks, will be used by Tel Aviv in the court of public opinion. It will allow it to scapegoat the Palestinians for all of the violence by bringing down one of their most respected political leaders. But, the gutsy Barghouti is up to their insidious blame-the-victim game and he is refusing to play along.
At a preliminary proceeding on September 5, Barghouti strongly objected to the jurisdiction of the Israeli court. When he said that Israel was guilty of “waging genocide” and that he was a “fighter for peace for both peoples,” (the Palestinians and the Israelis), the Presiding Chief Judge, one Sarah Zerota, shouted at him, “One who fights doesn’t turn people into bombs and kill children” (Joshua Brilliant, UPI, 09/05/02). Zerota’s seriously biased comment came even before a single state’s witness had been heard in the controversial case.
Article 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees Barghouti a right to be tried before an “independent and impartial tribunal.” Judge Zerota’s prejudicial opinion indicates that she has already made up her mind about the defendant’s guilt. It is fair to assume that her guilt-before-trial mindset has polluted the other two jurists as well, since neither objected to her rant. In addition, Article 11 (2) of that same international legal code, assures to every defendant in a criminal proceeding, a presumption of “innocent until proven guilty.” Zerota’s inflammatory remark tramples on that important safeguard, too, and makes a mockery of the possibility of a fair trial.
Barghouti, age 43, is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (Parliament). He is the secretary-general of Fatah, the largest secular Palestinian liberation movement. He was forcibly abducted, on April 15, 2002, from Ramallah, during an Israeli military sweep of the occupied West Bank. He has been subjected for months to harsh interrogations in which “sleep deprivation” and other “physical and psychological abuse” were employed, according to the web site of the Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti.
It is also well documented by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, that the Israelis regularly engage in systematic torture of detainees. In fact, 28 Palestinians have died from April 7, 1994, until Oct. 18, 2001, while in the custody of the Israelis.
Zionist Israel is a signatory to the Oslo Accords of which Barghouti is a passionate supporter. The Accords prohibit any Palestinian from being tried in a court in Israel Proper for any alleged criminal offense committed within the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. In addition, it is a clear violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention for Israel to transfer any citizen of the Occupied Territories, particularly one with parliamentary immunity, to the jurisdiction of the Occupier (Israel Proper).
As the prosecutor Dvorah Chen began to read out the indictment against him, the articulate Barghouti, who is fluent in Hebrew, interposed one of his objections, which goes to the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict and to this travesty of justice. He said, “There’s a mistake here. The one who should be sitting here (as a defendant) is the government of Israel” (Steve Weizman, AP, Washington Times, 09/06/02).
Diplomats from the United Kingdom, German and Norway were in the courtroom monitoring the proceedings, along with a number of foreign reporters. According to Barghouti’s wife, Um al Qassam, an international campaign for solidarity with her husband’s status is gaining wide acceptance. She said the initiative for justice was launched originally in “Paris and extended to Belgium, German and South Africa.” She has spoken before the European Parliament on his behalf and has met with several British MPs. “We are doing all we can to make the world and all peace and freedom-loving peoples around the world aware of this flagrant Israeli persecution of my husband and my people” (Palestine Chronicle, 09/23/02). The trial is to resume on Oct. 3.
In my opinion, Israel, an oppressive occupying power, doesn’t have the legal jurisdiction or the moral authority to try this political “fighter for peace,” nor will it give him anything resembling a fair trial. The truth will never be reached in a Tel Aviv court room under these made-for-propaganda circumstances. Parallels between Barghouti’s plight and the ordeals endured by Nelson Mandela at the hands of the apartheid government of South Africa abound.
Justice demands the immediate release of Marwan Barghouti.
WILLIAM HUGHES 2002