Palestinian Leader Fights Terror Charges

Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouti went on trial Thursday, shouting defiance at the Israeli court and demanding to be allowed to read his own list of charges against the Israeli government for what he called its "genocidal war against the Palestinians".

Barghouti, 43, is the most senior Palestinian to be tried by Israel. He appeared without lawyers Thursday, representing himself to underscore his assertion that the court does not have jurisdiction.

"I am a political leader, a member of the Palestinian parliament, you have no right to try me," he shouted. "I don't recognize this court, it's a court of the occupation."

Presiding Judge Sarah Zerota said that if he wanted to dispute the court's competence to try him, he should have an attorney make legal arguments. She delayed the trial until Oct. 3 to give him time to reconsider his decision to represent himself.

As prosecutor Dvora Chen began reading the indictment, Barghouti, wearing a dark brown prison uniform, repeatedly interrupted.

"There's a mistake here. The one who should be sitting here (as a defendant) is the government of Israel," he told the three-judge panel in fluent Hebrew.

Barghouti described himself as fighting for peace for both Palestinians and Israelis.

When Zerota commented that "fighters for peace don't plant bombs," Barghouti responded: "I don't want to get into that."

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

The victims included a Greek Orthodox monk, apparently mistaken for an Israeli as he drove at night in a car with Israeli license plates.

Daniel Taub, an Israeli Foreign Ministry official, said the trial was not politically motivated but was "first and foremost about justice ... for the victims of terrorism."

Barghouti was arrested April 15 during an Israeli military sweep in the West Bank. He is charged with murder, attempted murder and involvement in terrorist organizations.

Barghouti denies personal involvement in attacks.

Before the trial Israeli authorities handed reporters written material with the charges against Barghouti and stressing Arafat's alleged funding of terror groups.

In the hallway outside the courtroom, there were scuffles and shouting matches between Jewish spectators and Arab members of the Israeli parliament who came to watch the trial.

Relatives of victims of shooting and bombing attacks claimed by a Fatah-affiliated militia, the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, were in the courtroom. Zion and Etti Ben-Shalom held up large, framed picture of their son, Yaniv, who was killed with his wife, Sharon, in August 2001 in an ambush on their car.

At one point, Zion Ben-Shalom rose to his feet from the spectators' bench and shouted at Barghouti: "Freedom fighters fight soldiers, not women and children!"

Three of Barghouti's four children -- Sharaf, 13; Arab, 12; and Ruba, 15 -- also were present, and Barghouti waved at them as they called "Dad, Dad."

Avigail Levy, whose 17-year-old daughter, Rachel, was killed in a suicide bombing in a Jerusalem supermarket in March, sat near Barghouti's children. At one point, she told them: "Look what your father did. Your father is a murderer."

Barghouti's lawyer, Jawad Boulus, told reporters later that he would represent his client at the Oct. 3 hearing, when the prosecution will formally demand that he be kept in custody until the end of proceedings against him.

In the days of peacemaking in the 1990s, Barghouti developed friendships with some Israeli officials, helped persuade Fatah activists to recognize Israel and was a staunch proponent of coexistence.

However, after Israeli-Palestinian fighting erupted in September 2000, Barghouti adopted a more militant line, saying Palestinians had the right to drive Israelis out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip by force.

Arab Barghouti told reporters that his father had been one of the first Palestinians to forge ties with Israelis.

"He was the first one to go to the conference, the peace conference with the Israelis," he said. "They have no right to try him as a terrorist."