Israeli lawyer defends Palestinian leader Barghouti
Palestine-Israel, Politics, 10/4/2002
Shamai Leibowitz is taking up where his grandfather, a maverick Jewish scholar, left off -- joining the defense team of a Palestinian leader charged with directing terror attacks against Israelis, as a way of protesting Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, MAP reported.
Leibowitz, a lawyer, plans to be at the defense table Thursday in a Tel Aviv court when Marwan Barghouti, West Bank leader of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, faces charges of murder, attempted murder and terrorism. While the Israeli government casts Barghouti as a terrorist, Leibowitz compares him to the biblical Moses, evoking the wrath of other Orthodox Jews.
His grandfather, world-renowned Torah scholar Yeshayahu Leibowitz, was one of the first Israelis to demand that Israel withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza Strip after the territories were captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
As the years progressed and Orthodox Jewish leaders became more and more identified with the movement to settle Jews in the territories, claiming them as part of Israel's biblical homeland, Leibowitz became a lone prophet of doom in the Orthodox Jewish camp.
He argued that dominating Palestinians corrupted Israel and gave rise to a "Judeo-Nazi mentality in certain circles," a reference to World War II Germany, responsible for the death of 6 million Jews. That comparison set off a storm of criticism that followed him to his death in 1994.
Barghouti will be making his third court appearance since Israeli forces arrested him in Ramallah in April. Barghouti insists he is a politician and is not connected with violence. Israel accuses Barghouti of orchestrating attacks that killed 26 Israelis.
Shamai Leibowitz is not the only high-profile member of Barghouti's defense team. Gisele Halimi, a 75-year-old Tunisia-born Jewish lawyer famed for defending Algerians fighting French rule, said last month she would also represent Barghouti.
Leibowitz, 32, referred to biblical sources in explaining his decision to help defend Barghouti.
"I see this as something which reminds me of the Book of Exodus, where the Egyptians tried to beat into submission the Israelites, but Moses fought against it. Marwan reminds me of Moses," Leibowitz told reporters Wednesday.
Leibowitz repeated his late grandfather's position that Israel's occupation of Palestinian land corrupts Israel.
"It's against our own heritage, it's betraying our very own ideas upon which this state was formed, to continue the harassment and the infliction of suffering," he said. "I hear it and it makes me cringe. How can Jews behave like that?" Leibowitz said the Israeli justice system was corrupt when it came to putting Palestinians on trial.
"I met a very sensitive and determined man. We have talked of his struggle and he convinced me that he was not fighting to throw all Jews to the sea, but against occupation, so I decided to defend him," he says. The attorney, a staunch defender of the group of Israeli soldiers who refused to serve in Palestinian territories says "I will not participate in occupation, in maintaining innocent people under closure because this only worsens the security situation of Israel and it blatantly violates international law and our most basic moral values."
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