JERUSALEM (May. 23)
Twenty-five suspected members of a Jewish terrorist underground on the West Bank were formally charged today with a wide range of criminal offenses aimed against Arab civilians. The names of the suspects continued to be withheld by court order but most are believed to be residents of the West Bank with close ties to the Gush Emunim and other militant settler groups.
The court deferred until next Thursday a decision on the prosecution request that all of the suspects remain in custody pending trial. The court session at which the charges were read was held in camera.
Six of the suspects were charged with murder and attempted murder in connection with the machinegun and grenade attack last July on the Islamic College in Hebron in which three Arab students were killed and 33 were wounded.
Nine suspects were charged with attempted murder attempted sabotage, illegal possession of arms and causing serious bodily harm. All were charged with membership and activity in an illegal terrorist organization.
BACKGROUND OF THE CHANGES
The sabotage charges stemmed from the planting of powerful explosives in five Arab-owned buses in East Jerusalem, timed to explode at the peak of rush hour last April 27. The attempt was foiled at the last minute by security agents acting on inside information.
The bodily harm charges were believed related to the June, 1980 car bombings that maimed Mayor Bassam Shaka of Nablus and Mayor Karim Khallaf of Ramallah. The accused were believed acting in retaliation for the murder of six yeshiva students by Arab terrorists in Hebron a month earlier.
Several suspects were charged with planting bombs in mosques in Hebron and others with conspiring to blow up the El Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two of the holiest shrines of Islam, on the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem.
The indictments handed down today marked the close of one of the longest and most sensitive criminal investigations in Israel’s history that apparently confirmed the long-rumored existence of a Jewish terrorist underground among the settlers in the occupied territories. The settlers, numbering some 30,000, are a major constituency of the ruling Likud-led government.
MESSAGE FROM ONE OF THE SUSPECTS
Yesterday, 300 settlers and supporters of the Gush Emunim staged a rally outside Jerusalem police headquarters in solidarity with the suspects. A message, purported to have come from one of the suspects, was read at the rally. It referred to the detained persons as “innocent Jews whose lives are dedicated to Zionist action” and claimed they were arrested “for action they have taken for the sake of the security of the State of Israel and its citizens.”
The message complained that the suspects were being treated as “terrorists” and urged their supporters to “protest against this distortion” and to convince the authorities that whatever actions were taken, albeit illegal, were the result of weakness and ineptitude on the part of the government in protecting Jewish settlers against Arab violence. The message was signed “Prisoner of Zion.”
BLAME FORMER DEFENSE MINISTER WEIZMAN
A Maariv reporter who claimed he gained access to the detainees in the Jerusalem jail during visiting hours, reported today that they told him they did not consider their acts criminal. They blamed former Defense Minister Ezer Weizman for creating a situation in which Jews had to defend themselves.
They accused Weizman of building up a Palestinian state on the West Bank through PLO representatives, members of the outlawed National Guidance Council. They also charged that under Weizman, the policies of Sheli were implemented in the territories, Maariv reported. Sheli is a small, now defunct, leftist faction.