A court today convicted three Jewish settlers of murder and 12 other defendants of lesser charges in the yearlong trial of alleged members of a Jewish terrorist underground.
The three-man tribunal postponed sentencing of the 15 defendants until later this week or early next week.
All were convicted of involvement in one or more attacks or planned attacks against Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including an alleged plot to blow up the Muslim shrine of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
The conspiracy to blow up the Dome of the Rock was never carried out, but Israeli commentators said that if the plotters had succeeded, it might have caused a holy war pitting the entire Muslim world against Israel.
The trial, which began in June, 1984, was one of the longest and most politically explosive in Israel’s history.
1983 Attack on University
The three convicted of murder were Menachem Livni, 35; Shaul Nir, 31, and Uzi Sharbaf, 25. The murder charges stemmed from the July, 1983, attack at the Islamic University in the West Bank town of Hebron in which three Arabs were killed and 33 others injured by assailants wielding machine guns and hand grenades.
Livni was considered the ringleader and was accused of being involved in all the operations.
Israel radio said life imprisonment is automatically imposed on murder charges.
The 15 defendents are considered the core of a loose-knit organization of Jewish extremists who decided to counter Palestinian attacks on Jewish settlers with their own brand of terrorism. In addition to the three convicted of murder, defendants were found guilty of attempted murder, sabotage, belonging to a terrorist organization, illegal possession of weapons and damage to army property.
Most are settlers from the West Bank, and many wore beards and skullcaps marking them as Orthodox Jews. As the verdicts were read, the defendants sat quietly next to members of their families.
Pleas for Leniency
After the verdicts were handed down, the court heard testimony from influential Israelis who pleaded for lenient sentences for those convicted in the underground case.
The defendants, who won much public sympathy during their 13-month trial for what they called retaliatory strikes against Arab terrorism, are expected to appeal to President Chaim Herzog for pardons or clemency after sentencing.
One of the defendants, DeYitzhak Novick, said on the radio: “I am disappointed about this decision, which blames me or categorizes me as a terrorist, especially since what I did I felt I did in order to protect my family and my neighbors.
“It has been proven that what I did, what I set out to do, was successful in that for two years after what I did there were no, almost no, terrorist incidents, at least no grave terrorist incidents in the West Bank.”