Three convicted members of a Jewish terrorist underground received mandatory life sentences for murder today. Twelve others drew sentences ranging from four months to seven years imprisonment on a variety of lesser counts, all involving acts of violence against Arab residents of the West Bank and conspiracy to blow up Islamic shrines in East Jerusalem.
The sentences, pronounced by a three-judge panel in Jerusalem District Court, marked the end of the most controversial and politically explosive trial in Israel’s history. They triggered new demands for pardon from rightwing politicians and nationalist and religious elements. All of the defendants are Orthodox Jews.
The three sentenced to life are Menachem Livni, leader of the underground, Uziyahu Sharbat and Shaul Nir. They were found guilty of murder for their part in a machinegun and grenade attack on the Islamic College in Hebron in which three Palestinian students were killed.
There were originally 27 defendants when the trial began over a year ago. Ten were sentenced in the course of the legal process as a result of plea-bargaining with the State Prosecutor. Two, who are Israel Defense Force officers, will be tried separately and are free on bail.
Four of the men sentenced earlier have already appealed for clemency and the 15 sentenced today are expected to do the same. They will not apparently try to overturn their convictions or reduce their jail terms through appeals to the Supreme Court. Their lawyers indicated that they could hardly expect more lenient treatment from the high court than from the district bench.
Clemency is the exclusive prerogative of the President of Israel. The incumbent, President Chaim Herzog, has made it clear that he will consider clemency appeals on an individual basis only. There will be no blanket pardon for the convicted men.
Some observers said today that the relatively light sentences imposed on most of the defendants would take some steam out of the clemency drive. Haim Kaufman, chairman of the Likud Knesset faction, wants to avoid the clemency process.
He has begun lobbying vigorously for a special bill that would ensure the early release of all underground members. According to Kaufman, if he can win a Knesset majority for such a measure it would reflect the will of the majority of Israelis.
But Kaufman’s Likud colleague, Ehud Olmert, a lawyer, called Kaufman’s initiative a dangerous precedent. “This is not the business of the Knesset,” he said and warned that it would be tantamount to circumvention of the Presidential pardon system.
Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel, a Labor MK, also warned against interference by the Knesset. But, he said, individual MKs could apply to the President on a humanitarian basis.
Strong public sentiment for pardons or light sentences emerged a month ago after Israel freed 1,150 Palestinian and other terrorists, many of them serving life sentences for mass murder, in exchange for three Israeli soldiers who were being held by Palestinian terrorists in Damascus.
DEFENDANTS SHOW NO REMORSE
The men sentenced today showed no remorse. They defended their actions on grounds that the government had failed to protect Jewish settlers in the West Bank from Arab terrorists and they were forced to take the law into their own hands in self-defense. The court flatly rejected that contention in the course of the trial.
Livni, who got life for murder, was also involved in several other crimes of the terrorist underground. These included a plot to blow up the Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar) on the Temple Mount; planting time bombs in the chassis of four Arab-owned buses in East Jerusalem; and booby-trapping the cars of three West Bank Arab mayors, two of whom were permanently crippled.
Livni’s co-defendant, Nir, was convicted, in addition to murder, of placing a grenade on a soccer field in Hebron and another near a mosque. He was also involved in the Temple Mount plot for which he was sentenced to six years in prison, to run concurrently with his life sentence.
SENTENCES ON 12 OF THE DEFENDANTS
The sentences passed on the remaining 12 defendants are: Yehuda Etzion, seven years for instigating and leading the Temple Mount plot; Yehoshua Shoshan, two years for involvement in the Temple Mount plot and indirect complicity in the attack on the Islamic College; Barak Nir (brother of Shaul Nir), six years for manslaughter in the college attack and involvement in the Temple Mount conspiracy and the bus plot.
Yitzhak Ganiram, seven years for manslaughter in the college attack, and the Temple Mount conspiracy; Haggai Segal, Yitzhak Novik and Natan Natansen, three years each for the attack on the Arab mayors; Haim Ben-David, three-and-and-half years for involvement in the Temple Mount plot, the attack on the mayors and the attempted bombing of the Arab buses; Boaz Heineman, two years for the Temple Mount and bus plots; Benzion Heineman, three years for the same two offenses plus the attack on the mayors; Yaacov Heineman, three years and four months for his part in the Temple Mount plot.
Moshe Zar was sentenced to four months for lesser offenses. He will be released immediately in lieu of time already served. All of the sentences were concurred in by a majority of the three judges — Yitzhak Cohen and Shmuel Finkelman. The court President, Judge Yaacov Bazak, was generally inclined to leniency.
Attention is now focussed on Justice Minister Moshe Nissim who will present the various clemency appeals to President Herzog with his recommendation in each case. The President is not bound by law to accept the recommendations.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.