Amir sentenced to life term for assassination of Rabin 3-judge panel rejects unrepentant Israeli's biblical law rationale

March 28, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

TEL AVIV SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT JOSHUA BRILLIANT CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — TEL AVIV -- Yigal Amir, a smiling assassin whose bullets temporarily advanced the peace process he sought to destroy, was sentenced to life in prison yesterday for the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

Amir remained unrepentant and uncowed. He told the court, "I did it for the people of Israel, the Torah of Israel, the land of Israel."

A three-judge panel rejected Amir's explanation that he was pTC compelled by biblical law to shoot Mr. Rabin to stop the government from returning land to Palestinians.

"That is a twisted, a sickening idea," said presiding Judge Edmund A. Levy, in delivering the verdict.

Amir, a 25-year-old law student, was hustled from the courtroom after sentencing. "The state of Israel is a monstrosity," he shouted.

The panel also sentenced him to a consecutive six-year term for wounding a bodyguard in the hand. Amir lunged at the prime minister from behind, shooting three times with a Beretta pistol as Mr. Rabin left a peace rally Nov. 4 in Tel Aviv. Mr. Rabin was mortally wounded.

Under usual circumstances, life in prison is the harshest penalty in Israel. The death penalty is invoked only for crimes against the Jewish people: the Holocaust and those who participated.

"Even from behind the bars and the depths of the prison walls, forever will shine from the forehead of this defendant the mark of Cain, as one who tramples the basic human commandment, 'Thou shalt not murder,' " said Judge Oded Mudrich.

Amir's act, to which he proudly confessed, exposed the angry rift in Israel between those who support peace with the Palestinians and extremists who believe they have a biblical claim on the land.

The assassination temporarily galvanized support for the peace process under Mr. Rabin's successor, Shimon Peres. But the divisions remain, and after a series of bombings by Palestinian extremists, some Israelis who oppose the peace process have lauded Amir and called for the death of Mr. Peres -- the kind of rhetoric blamed by some for encouraging the killing of Mr. Rabin.

"You hear 'Viva Amir' at some demonstrations now. The sympathy and appreciation for Amir might rise, particularly among those who think this peace plan is a disaster," said Hebrew University law professor Ruth Gavison.

"There's a real danger he could become a kind of a folk hero," she said. "There's 10 to 15 percent of the population in Israel who are pleased with what he did."

The judges on the panel that sentenced Amir said Israeli society shares blame for the assassination.

"Which parts of Israel's education system failed?" asked Judge Levy. "We are confronted with proof that the decline in values among us has become a plague.

"Israel's multifaceted society, which time and time again has sinned by baseless hatred, has shown very little brotherly love," the judge said. He condemned others with whom Amir apparently discussed the idea of assassination as a religious imperative.

Amir's brother Haggai and a friend, Dror Adani, face trial on conspiracy charges relating to their alleged knowledge of Yigal Amir's plans.

Yesterday's verdict ended an often-bizarre trial. The judges would not allow it to be televised until yesterday, and testimony was often inaudible and seemed almost private, an apparent attempt not to give Amir publicity.

But courtroom sketches and photos taken before court sessions angered many Israelis. Amir smiled and smirked through much of the trial, chewing gum, winking at his family and seeming to laugh at the proceedings. Yesterday, he seemed more subdued, but yawned and smiled occasionally.

Though Amir acted as his own lawyer at times, his Texas-born attorney, Jonathan Ray Goldberg, nearly threw the trial into turmoil. He exasperated the judges with his questions, failure to prepare for court and bizarre theories. Even yesterday, he continued to insist on his client's innocence, claiming the bullets fired by Amir were blanks -- a contradiction of his client's testimony.

"The court took advantage of the situation that Yigal Amir was not allowing me to defend him in the right way," Mr. Goldberg said outside the court. "Under political pressure, they made a fast, quick trial. It was staged theater what the world wants to hear."

Leah Rabin, the widow of the premier, complained last night on Israel Radio that there was no need for the trial to have lasted so long after Amir had confessed.

A government commission set up after the assassination is to give its report today. The report is expected to criticize Mr. Rabin's security detail. Seven officers and members of the security forces have been told that they could face charges of negligence.

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