An Israeli court sent popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti to prison for life Sunday for his role in deadly attacks on Israelis, sidelining a possible successor to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.
Barghouti was given five consecutive life terms and 40 years -- the maximum sentence -- after he was convicted last month of involvement in shootings that killed four Israelis and a Greek monk. The ruling said Barghouti was “involved up to his neck in terror activity.”
Before the sentencing, Barghouti rejected the right of the court to judge him, to the cheers of supporters in the courtroom. “The Israeli courts are a partner to the Israeli occupation,” Barghouti said. “The judges are just like pilots who fly planes and drop bombs.”
Israeli forces snatched him in April 2002 during a raid in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Barghouti was the West Bank leader of Arafat’s Fatah faction, but the two have had a stormy relationship.
Israel charged that Barghouti was also a leader of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a violent offshoot of Fatah, supplying funds and weapons to militants who carried out dozens of shootings and bombings, killing and wounding hundreds of Israelis. The ruling said Arafat encouraged attacks against Israelis but did not order them specifically.
For years the small, energetic Barghouti was a close ally of Israeli peace activists, advocating the creation of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel. However, with the outbreak of violence in September 2000, Barghouti became a strident backer of resistance against Israeli occupation. Although he defended attacks against Jewish settlers and soldiers in the West Bank, he insisted that he did not actively encourage violence.
In their ruling Sunday, the three judges scoffed at Barghouti’s claim to be a man of peace. His “path to peace follows the bloody route of terrorism,” they wrote.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian Authority did not recognize the court decision. “Israeli courts have no jurisdiction over an elected Palestinian official like Marwan Barghouti or anybody else, and we demand his immediate release,” Erekat said.