Emotions Run High at Trial of Two Terrorists

The trial of the two surviving members of the terrorist gang which hijacked a bus on the coastal Haifa-Tel Aviv road in March, 1978 and killed 37 people is heavy with emotion. The courtroom of the military tribunal here is crowded with survivors and relatives of victims — fathers and mothers, grandparents, brothers and sisters and children.

The two terrorists, Halad Housein, 18, and Housein Fuad, 19, show no remorse. Instead they wave their hands in Palestine Liberation Organization victory signs, they spit at people in the audience and they smile and even laugh when witnesses describe the atrocities of the terrorist gang.

For the survivors/ however, the trial is a return to hell, a return to those horrible minutes on the road outside Tel Aviv when their fellow bus passengers were murdered. Members of the audience begin crying when a witness describes the circumstances of the death of a beloved one.

Emotions run high and there are outbursts from the audience. The anger is aimed, not so much at the two Palestinians, but their Jewish lawyer, Leah Zemel. Many in the audience are indignant at the questions she asks seeking to undermine the credibility of the witnesses.

EYE WITNESS ACCOUNTS

Ethel Sacherbrott, an elderly woman who was wounded by the terrorists, described how, after the bus was set afire, a woman with a baby in her arms was shot by the terrorists. Some of the passengers tried to take the baby but a woman terrorist grabbed the infant and threw it into the burning part of the bus. Fuad clapped his hands in joy as the incident was described. There was silence in the courtroom for a moment and then sobs could be heard throughout the audience.

Mrs. Sacherbrott, who had a heart attack after the massacre, raised her hand over her eyes and cried, “Oh God, I am trying hard to forget these sights, these horrors, but I can’t. “She then fainted. The audience began shouting at the defense attorney, accusing her of selling out for PLO money. The testimony continued after Mrs. Sacherbrott was revived.

Esther Avi-Assaf, 14, a passenger on the bus, said she saw the two defendants throwing grenades as the passengers tried to escape from the burning bus. She said the terrorists used her as a shield white she pleaded in English for them not to kill her. She escaped when a terrorist who was holding her let go to throw a grenade at a wounded passenger.

Throughout the hearings, the military tribunal, headed by Col. Aharon Halperin, tried to keep both the witnesses and the audience calm as one harrowing tale after another was told. Witnesses were instructed to answer questions from Mrs. Zemel and persons who shouted at her were removed from the courtroom.

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