By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
07 December 2004
An extreme right Jewish settler convicted under counter-terrorism legislation for membership of an organisation that killed eight Palestinian civilians was jailed for eight years yesterday.
Shahar Dvir-Zeliger, a member of the "new Jewish underground" was also found guilty in Jerusalem district court of illegal possession of arms stolen from the Israeli Defence Forces stores. Zeliger belonged to the "Bat Ayin" group, held responsible for several attacks including one which killed a baby, and an ambush on a car in July, 2001, in which three Palestinians were shot dead.
During the investigation, Zeliger led police to the group's massive weapons cache containing guns, anti-tank rockets, and ammunition stolen from Israeli Army weapons stores and bunkers in the West Bank. The cache was hidden in caves near his home in the West Bank settlement of Adi Ad.
The counter-terrorism order under which Zeliger was convicted was last used in the 1980s against members of the "Jewish underground" who bombed the cars of Arab mayors in the West Bank and mounted a shooting attack at the Islamic University in Hebron in which three students were killed.
Judge Yoram Noam said the prison term was the longest he could impose in view of the cooperation shown by Zeliger during the police investigation, which established that some of the weapons had been used to kill Palestinians. But he declared: "The phenomenon of Jewish citizens of Israel belonging to a terrorist organisation aiming to harm Arab residents needs to be eradicated by severe punishment."
In September, Judge Noam acquitted Zeliger of charges of breaking into a building and stealing weapons, arguing that it was likely that someone else stole the weapons. He was also acquitted of possession of TNT.
Eight people were arrested on the basis of the defendant's testimony, most of whom were subsequently released for lack of evidence. Although Zeliger admitted last year that he was a member of a group that shot Palestinians to death, police were unable to link Zeliger directly to the killings.
But three members of the same group were convicted in 2003 for a bombing at a Palestinian school in east Jerusalem in 2002 that injured a teacher and four children. Four other Bat Ayin members, arrested with a bomb they were accused of planning to use against another Arab school, were released in a plea bargain.
The prosecutor, Dan Eldad, said yesterday: "This is the first time an Israeli court has ruled that there are Jewish terrorist organisations aiming to hurt innocent Arabs, especially children in schools."