Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Raw nerves were exposed on Thursday as relatives of terrorist victims came face-to-face with the man blamed for the deaths of their loved ones.
Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti was charged in a Tel Aviv court on Thursday in connection with the murder of 26 Israelis, including an eight-month-old baby and a 79-year-old woman. He's also accused of wounding hundreds more in terror attacks and of heading the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade.
Barghouti, who headed the West Bank faction of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, was arrested by Israeli troops during Operation Defensive Shield in April.
He has been tipped as a possible successor to Arafat. Palestinian sources have said that his incarceration has only increased his popularity among the Palestinian people.
A defiant Barghouti refused to have a lawyer present on Thursday and although he was not asked to enter a plea, had said earlier that he would not do so because he did not recognize the court's jurisdiction over him.
His defense lawyer Jawad Bouloss boycotted the trial on Thursday and said his client would only speak in order to condemn what he called the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"I am a freedom fighter, I am a member of parliament," Barghouti told families of the victims and reporters.
"You're a murderer; you're a terrorist," the Israeli father of a terrorist victim shouted in reply. "Freedom fighters are supposed to attack soldiers, but you murdered my son."
"You brought me here by force; I don't want to see your indictment," Barghouti shot back in Hebrew. He refused to accept a copy of the charge sheet against him. He maintains that he is a political leader, and as a member of the Palestinian legislative body, he claims to have diplomatic immunity.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Daniel Taub insists that Israel has every right to try Barghouti because his "ultimate aim" was to spread terror among Israelis.
Taub said that Barghouti's refusal to participate in his own trial would not stop the court from hearing the evidence against him or delivering a judgment. He also downplayed the risk of increasing Barghouti's popularity by bringing him to trial.
"There are risks here," Taub said. "But there are risks in letting terrorists carry on [without stopping them]."
Taub said that from what he heard at the opening of the trial, he did not believe that Barghouti had any specific answer to the charges against him.
"By hiding behind the struggle of the Palestinian people, he is doing a terrible disservice to those who want [to end this peacefully]," he said.
Among the relatives in the courtroom was Etti Ben Shalom, whose son Yaniv, 27, and his wife Sharon were killed in an ambush on their car one year ago.
The couple's two daughters aged 20 months and eight months, survived the attack but Sharon's brother was also killed. Before the hearing, Shalom held up separate pictures of her son and daughter-in-law on their wedding day.
Also in the courtroom were at least two of Barghouti's children. It was not clear how they were allowed to come to Tel Aviv. Crying, his son yelled out, "Daddy, daddy," while his daughter waved at him.
Some of the victims' relatives shouted at the children that their father was a murderer.
The proceedings are set to resume in October after the Jewish holidays.