Jerusalem (Jun. 24)
The largest mass-trial of Jews charged with illegal possession of arms ever held in Palestine opened here today before a British military court. Thirty-one Jewish youths, including a 21-year-old girl, are involved. They all face the death penalty if convicted under the Emergency Defense Regulations now in force.
The 31 were captured on the morning of April 3, following attacks the previous night on Palestine rail lines, which cut communications with Egypt and Lebanon. When they were apprehended, after being spotted by a R.A.F. reconnaissance plane, they are alleged to have had a large quantity of automatic rifles, bombs, hand grenades, revolvers and ammunition. One defendant, Benjamin Ben Shlomo Kaplan, 19, is also charged with firing at the troops which arrested the group.
Extra guards were posted outside the chamber in which the trial is taking place and around the barbed wire enclosing the courthouse. Special arrangements were made to accommodate the unusually large number of defendants, their counsel, relatives and members of the press. The accused were brought to the courthouse in two trucks accompanied by police cars. They could be heard singing as the vehicles passed through the streets.
DEFENDANTS CHANT PEALMS; REFUSE TO RECOGNIZE JURISDICTION OF COURT
As the judges entered the courtroom, all the defendants rose and began chanting pealms. They were dressed in khaki shorts and shirts with an embroidered insignia in blue and white on the breast. On their heads they were blue and white skull cape with the word “Jerusalem” stitched across them.
The first of the defendants to take the stand today, 20-year-old Ben Avigdor Ampert, speaking on behalf of all, said that “as soldiers of the Irgun, soldiers of the Jewish people fighting for its freedom, we do not recognize the jurisdiction of this court and will not reply to questions, or participate in the proceedings.”
The court ruled that the defendants were pleading not guilty, after which the prosecutor described the circumstances of their arrest. He told how they were spotted by aircraft and then surrounded by three airborne divisions. Some attempted to flee, he said, but Kaplan fired, wounding a sergeant in the knee. After the prosecutor had concluded, the court was adjourned until tomorrow afternoon.