May 2004

The panel of three judges found Palestinian West Bank leader Marwan Barghouti guilty in the murders of four Israelis and a Greek Orthodox priest in three attacks dating back to 2001 and 2002. He was also convicted of orchestrating a failed car bombing at a shopping mall in Jerusalem and of belonging to a terrorist organisation. He is due to be sentenced on his 45th birthday, on 6 June, when it is expected he will receive several life sentences. Barghouti, an elected member of the Palestinian legislature, had refused to cooperate from the trial’s outset and offered no legal defence. His lawyers said they would not appeal the decision. Challenging the head of the panel, Judge Sara Sirota, as she handed down the verdict, he called out: “I’m no more involved in these attacks than you are.”

This year’s US State Department annual report on human rights practices in Israel identifies discrimination against Palestinian citizens in most spheres of their lives. It says: “The government did little to reduce institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country’s Arab citizens.” Among many issues, it notes the humiliating treatment of Palestinian citizens, including community leaders, during security checks at airports and checkpoints. Last month, Amir Makhul, director of Ittijah, the umbrella organisation for Israel’s Arab non-profit groups, was detained at length and searched by security staff at Ben Gurion airport.

The small affluent community of Katzir has become a byword for the apartheid policies of the Israeli state. For nine years, an Arab family, the Kadans, who live a short distance away in the Israeli Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiya, have been fighting through the courts to be allowed to join the Jewish community. Katzir sits high on a hill just inside Israel that overlooks the rolling landscape of the northern West Bank close to the Palestinian city of Jenin. It is one of hundreds of exclusive Jewish communities in Israel which are built on state land and that weed out Arab applicants, unofficially, through strict vetting procedures.

Ariel Sharon emerged on Sunday from the referendum of Likud Party members on his unilateral “disengagement” plan from Gaza stranded in a political cul de sac. Even though he is sitting on one of the biggest electoral majorities in Israeli history, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is now friendless, without allies among the settlers whose support he once cultivated or the mainstream of his own party. Even the White House was sounding cautious about the special relationship. Israeli analysts suggested that Sharon, the army general who had never played by the rules, might yet stage another of his famous comebacks after his defeat by a 20 point margin in the poll, on a turnout of just over half the Likud Party’s membership.