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Can Israel Try a Palestinian Fairly? Case to Be Argued in Federal Court

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The issue of whether a suspected Palestinian terrorist can receive a fair trial in Israel has taken center stage in a federal court in Brooklyn.

Mahmoud El-Abed Ahmad, a naturalized American citizen who was born in the West Bank city of Ramallah, has been charged in Israel with taking part in an attack on an Egged bus in the West Bank in 1986, an attack which left the bus driver dead and a passenger wounded.

The U.S. government has been seeking Ahmad’s extradition to Israel for more than two years, to face a string of charges including murder.

Ahmad has remained incarcerated in the Metropolitan Correction Center in Manhattan throughout his legal fight against extradition. Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark has been Ahmad’s lawyer in the prolonged court battle.

In his latest court petition, Clark stated that Ahmad’s “chances of receiving even a modicum of due process within the Israeli judicial system are nonexistent.” In Israel, Ahmad would “be faced with procedures and/or treatment that is antipathetic to a federal court’s sense of decency.”

To support these claims, Clark has called expert witnesses to testify before U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein, among them Lea Tsemel, a West Bank attorney well known for defending Palestinians, and Abdeen Jabara, the president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

Clark has also submitted voluminous documentation to the court compiled by Palestinian and other sources, which details alleged mistreatment of Palestinians in Israeli custody.

The U.S. government, which is fighting for Ahmad’s extradition, plans to call two of its own experts to testify Wednesday to defend the Israeli system of justice.

DERSHOWITZ TO TESTIFY

One witness will be the celebrated Harvard law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who has observed and written about the judicial process in Israel.

“My view is that anybody can get a fair trial in Israel,” Dershowitz said in a telephone interview.

Ahmad, who is also known by the name Mahmoud Abed Atta, is reputedly a member of Abu Nidal’s terrorist group.

Abu Nidal’s organization has taken responsibility for the April 12, 1986, West Bank bus attack in which three men threw Molotov cocktails and fired automatic weapons at an Israeli bus near the Dir Abu Mishal intersection, killing the bus driver and wounding a passenger.

Two Palestinians were tried and convicted in the attack. The Israeli government says the two men implicated Ahmad as their accomplice in statements they made while in custody.

By that time, Ahmad had fled the country.

After a global manhunt, Ahmad was located in Venezuela by Israel and the FBI in April 1987.

Since there is no extradition treaty between Venezuela and Israel, Ahmad was deported to the United States, where a warrant for his arrest had been issued. Upon his arrival at Kennedy Airport, he was immediately taken into custody, and Israel formally requested his extradition two months later.

In Ahmad’s first extradition hearing, Magistrate John Caden ruled that the government could not extradite him to Israel.

Caden concluded that the bus attack was “a political act” which made Ahmad immune to extradition. He also ruled that Ahmad had been brought illegally to the United States.

But Caden’s ruling was reversed when the government filed its extradition request for a second time, and Magistrate Edward Korman granted the extradition.

Court sources say a final ruling on the appeal now before Judge Weinstein is not expected until late September, following oral arguments and the submission of legal briefs.

If Weinstein rules in the government’s favor and upholds the extradition order, Ahmad has the right to appeal the case to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and potentially to the Supreme Court.

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