Marwan Barghouti, a popular Palestinian leader once seen as a potential successor to Yasser Arafat, was convicted Thursday in a Tel Aviv court of five counts of murder stemming from three terrorist attacks.
Barghouti was found guilty of ordering attacks that killed a Greek Orthodox monk in the West Bank in 2001, an Israeli at the Jewish settlement of Givat Zeev in 2002 and three people at the Seafood Market restaurant in Tel Aviv in 2002. He was also convicted of one count each of attempted murder and membership in a terrorist organization.
Television news footage of the trial showed Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian legislature, responding to the convictions in a low voice, saying in Hebrew, "This is a court of occupation that I do not recognize."
"A day will come when you will be ashamed of these accusations," said Barghouti, 44. "I have no more connection to these charges than you, the judges, do. The judges cannot judge on their own. They get their order from above."
The three-judge panel said there was insufficient evidence to prove Barghouti's guilt in another 21 deaths that were originally part of the indictment. Sentencing will take place June 6. The prosecution asked the court to hand down five life terms, plus another 40 years for attempted murder.
Barghouti, the West Bank leader of Arafat's Fatah movement, has said he opposes the killing of innocent civilians but that Palestinians under occupation have the right to defend themselves. He refused to refute the charges against him, instead charging Israel with breaching international law and Palestinian-Israeli accords.
In an unusual move, the court answered some of his accusations in its decision, saying Israeli law allows an Israeli court to try a Palestinian for crimes against state security and that interim accords with Palestinians do not change that. Israeli and Palestinian analysts said that if the court felt compelled to defend its jurisdiction, Barghouti had to some extent succeeded in making the case a question of the Israeli occupation.
"He is a freedom fighter for the Palestinians and a murderer for many Israelis," said Hebrew University political scientist Yaron Ezrahi. "And Sharon is a murderer for the Palestinians and a freedom fighter for the Israelis. In this world, the legal process appears very partisan."
Israeli Justice Minister Yosef Lapid said, however, that the verdict "demonstrates the independence of the Israeli courts. The fact that in most of the accusations he is found not guilty is clear evidence that his case was given a fair trial."
Barghouti's lawyer, Jawal Boulos, said his client would not appeal the decision because he did not consider the Israeli judiciary legally capable of judging him. Boulos said his best hope was that Barghouti would be freed in an exchange of political prisoners.
Ezrahi said that at a time when Israel is assassinating some Palestinian leaders, Barghouti could be safer in jail.
Arrested in 2002, Barghouti has been kept in solitary confinement, and his wife and four children have not been allowed to visit him or to enter Israel to attend his trial.
"My husband is a popular Palestinian leader who believes in a just peace and the ending of occupation and settlements," said Barghouti's wife, Fadwa, a lawyer who had hoped to argue his case. "I feel like any woman in the world who loses her husband and her love and her friend."
Barghouti, who was arrested for the first time at age 19, rose to prominence in the Palestinian uprising of the late 1980s and eventually became one of the best known Palestinian peace activists. He marched arm-in-arm with Israeli politicians in demonstrations in Israel, reached out to leaders of Israel's religious conservative parties and was a vigorous supporter of the 1993 Oslo accords.
But as peace negotiations foundered in the late 1990s, Barghouti began to advocate another uprising. His position as Fatah's West Bank leader made him responsible for the movement's militia, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and the Israeli court ruled that it was through that organization that Barghouti had issued orders to kill.
In court, Barghouti yelled in Arabic, cuffed hands above his head, "There's no legality for this court at all. . . . This court represents the occupation."
"It won't take you as long to get out as Mandela," Mohammad Barakeh, an Arab member of Israel's parliament, shouted across the courtroom, referring to South African ex-president Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in confinement. "The same Israelis who are sentencing you now will end up negotiating with you."
Staff researcher Samuel Sockol contributed to this report.