For more than two years, the Israeli government worked through US diplomatic and judicial channels for the extradition from Chicago of Arab West Bank resident Ziad Abu Ein. Arrested here at Israel's request in August 1979, he was held in a Chicago jail until December 1981 when the US State Department decided to extradite him.
Mr. Abu Ein is charged with having planted a bomb in a crowded Tiberius marketplace which killed two people and injured dozens of other bystanders. He has insisted from the start that he is innocent of the charges, but that he could never receive a fair trial if he were returned to Israel.
The trial is slated to begin in a civilian court in Tel Aviv on April 20. Muhammad Miari, who will be serving as the Arab half of Mr. Abu Ein's Israeli legal defense team, said on a visit to Chicago this week that the trial is the first involving such charges against a Palestinian to be held in a civilian rather than military court. Rules governing admissible evidence tend to be much more strict in civilian courts. Rules Mr. Miari says he thinks the Israeli government made the early pledge to a change in this instance in hopes that it might make their request for Abu Ein's extradition more acceptable to US authorities.
Though Israel has a long roster of witnesses on the prosecution side, none apparently saw Abu Ein on the scene or heard him admit to the deed. The closest the government may come to such a relatively firsthand witness would be in calling to the stand an Israeli intelligence officer who accompanied Abu Ein on his return flight toIsrael from New York. This officer later submitted a written account of the trip to the government which reportedly says that Abu Ein mentioned numerous knowledgeable details about the incident and said that he had decided only at the last minute not to take part in the action. Abu Ein has told his own legal defense team, headed by Israeli criminal lawyer Jacob Hegler, that he made no such comments on the return flight at all.
Miari, an Israeli citizen who practices law in Haifa, says he is concerned nonetheless that under the Israeli legal system such a third-party confession can serve as sufficient grounds for conviction in cases involving national security.
He says simply: ''We hope we can give Ziad a good defense -- we must try.''
The aim of the defense, Miari says, will be to prove that Abu Ein had no opportunity to be in Tiberius at all on May 14, 1979, the day of the crime. The defense list of witnesses will include about a dozen of Abu Ein's relatives and friends who insist that he was some 120 miles away in his hometown of Ramallah that day, tending the family store and attending the birth of his sister-in-law's child.
If Israeli authorities permit it, Jamal Yassin, a Palestianian acquaintance of Abu Ein's now serving time in an Israeli jail, may also be called to the stand, according to Miari. It was Mr. Yassin's signed confession against Abu Ein as singlehandedly responsible for the Tiberius bombing which led to the Israeli request for extradition. But Jassin later retracted the confession and said he made it up only under pressure.