JERUSALEM (Jun. 17)
Twenty-two suspected members of a Jewish terrorist underground went on trial in a Jerusalem district court today. Six are charged with the murder of three Arab students at the Islamic College in Hebron in July, 1983 and all face various counts of attempted murder, acts of violence and planned acts of violence against Arabs on the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Of the original 27 suspects indicted on a variety of charges, two were convicted last Thursday after confessing to lesser offenses. They are Gilad Peli, 31, of Moshav keshet on the Golan Heights and Yosef Zuria, 25, of Ramat Hasharon, the only one of the defentants who lives in Israel proper.
Two army officers, Maj. Shlomo Levytan and Capt. Ronni Gilla, pleaded not guilty to charges of complicity in the June, 1980 car bombings that maimed two West Bank Arab mayors. They will be tried separately. Another suspect, Noam Yinnon of Moshav Keshet, has already been sentenced to 18 months in prison at a separate trial. He pleaded guilty to illegal possession of explosives and transporting explosives, in exchange for which the State dropped charges of attempted murder.
Today’s proceedings began in an emotion-charged atmosphere. The small court room waspacked with family and friends of the accused. The latter charged the media with a “wild smear campaign” and “incitement,” claiming that this precluded a fair trial. One defense lawyer demanded that the case be dismissed for that reason alone. Others asked for a postponement. Chief prosecutor Dorit Beinish said she had no objections to a postponement until after the summer recess which would delay the trial until after the July 23 Knesset elections. The judge said he would rule on the motion at a later date.
Near pandemonium broke out even before the judge entered the courtroom today when relatives of the accused objected to the presence of an Arab lawyer, Ali Sabri. He represents former Mayor Bassam Shaka of Nablus, who lost both legs in the 1980 car bombing. Sabri was given permission to attend the trial as an observers because Shaka is considering a damage suit against the parties responsible for booby-trapping his car.
Relatives of the accused demanded the removal of the “representative of the PLO” and this was put in the form of a motion by defense counsel Yosef Yeshurun. It was rejected by Judge Yaacov Bazak who noted that this is an open trial. Some of the angry spectators walked out, shouting that they would “not sit in the same courtroom with the PLO.”
Otherwise, the proceedings were relatively quiet. Most of the first session was devoted to technical presentations and requests by the defense.
The cases of Peli and Zuria were disposed of quickly last Thursday as a result of their plea bargaining. Peli was convicted on charges of membership in a terrorist organization. He pleaded guilty in addition, to three counts of conspiracy which included conspiracy to cause grievous bodily harm and to attack the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aksa Mosque, two Islamic shrines on the Temple Mount in East Jerusalem. He also pleaded guilty to illegal possession and transportation of weapons and damaging army property.
Peli is expected to be sentenced on Thursday. The count of terrorism alone carries a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment. The original charge of attempted murder was dropped. His lawyer stressed to the court that Peli did not participate in terrorist activities although he was involved in the preparations for the planned assault on the Temple Mount and the attacks on Mayors Shaka and Karim Khallaf of Ramallah four years ago.
Peli, a secular Jew who turned to religion after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, told the court that his actions stemmed from a deep conviction that he was serving the best interests of his country and people. He expresse remorse only for having stolen weapons from the Israel Defense Force. Peli is married, the father of two children. He joined Moshav Keshet on the Golan Heights after the 1973 war and worked in the local school.
Zuria was convicted of conspiracy to attack the Temple Mount, illegal possession of armsand aggravated fraud, to all of which he confessed. Impersonating a army officer, he had conducted surveillance on the Temple Mount and purchased eight silencers for Uzi submachineguns which were to be used in the attack on the Dome of the Rock.
He is the son of Haim Zuria of Shavei Shomron on the West Bank and had lived in Ofra on the West Bank until two years ago when he married Anat Shalev, daughter of Avner Shalev, a senior official of the Ministry of Education and Culture and a former chief education officer of the IDF. After his marriage, he moved to Ramat Hasharon in Israel. He studied mathematics and computer science at Bar Illan University. Zuria’s wife gave birth to a daughter two weeks ago. He has been in custody and has not yet seen the child.