JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A Tunisian-born Jewish lawyer who defended Algerians fighting French colonial rule said on Saturday she would help represent Palestinian uprising leader Marwan Barghouthi on trial for murder in Israel.
Barghouthi, charismatic West Bank head of Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, shouted in a rowdy court appearance on Thursday he did not recognize Israel's right to try him and that its occupation of Palestinian lands should be on trial instead.
Gisele Halimi, a 75-year-old French Jewish lawyer, said she met Barghouthi in prison for an hour on Friday and he agreed that she could defend him at his next court date on October 3.
She said she had studied his case and had not found evidence to back up the charges against him. Barghouthi has denied involvement in plotting suicide bombings that have marked the uprising for independence, describing himself as solely a political leader.
Halimi told a news conference she was drawn to defending Barghouthi because of his past advocating a "fraternal" solution to the Middle East conflict envisaging two peoples living peacefully in two neighboring states.
That vision fitted in with the values she developed as a Jew growing up in Tunisia, she said.
"I think there is nothing closer to a Tunisian Jew than a Tunisian Muslim, with their culture, their love of their country. I think that Israelis and Palestinians have similar things in common," said Halimi.
"They have common treasures (with which) they could live together in the future, but it's the future (still)."
Halimi heads a Paris-based group called Lawyers for Justice in the Middle East founded a few months ago to help uphold human rights and advance the cause of peace in the region.
MEETING PLO OFFICIALS
Halimi, along with French colleague Daniel Voguet and Barghouthi local attorney Jawad Boulos, discussed his case on Saturday with Palestinian parliament speaker Ahmed Korei and prominent Palestinian moderate Sari Nusseibeh, the ranking Palestine Liberation Organization official in Jerusalem.
Halimi made her mark in the legal profession representing people charged with resisting French rule in Algeria in North Africa next to her native Tunisia, that ended violently in 1962.
Israel is hoping the civilian court trial of Barghouthi, its first of a major player in the two-year-old Palestinian uprising, will help show Palestinian leadership complicity in militant violence against Israelis.
The judges did not ask Barghouthi to enter a plea during Thursday's brief hearing, his second in two months. On October 3 it will hear his claim Israel has no right to put him on trial.
Arguing that the court had no right to put him on trial, he declined legal counsel, either from a team of Arab-Israeli lawyers who defended him in pretrial hearings or by a state-appointed defense attorney.