The highly publicized hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, led by terrorist Marwan Barghouti, proves something that should be obvious, particularly as we prepare for Holocaust Remembrance Day next week: Likening Israelis to modern-day Nazis is not only morally abhorrent, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
The Jews in Nazi concentration camps did not go on hunger strike for better conditions; they were starved to death. The Jews did not refuse to recognize the German justice system, the Nazi regime refused to recognize the Jews – as citizens, indeed as human beings. Jewish intellectuals did not have a chance to further their education; they were slaves until they were killed. They didn’t get family visits and conjugal rights. Jews were rounded up – often with the help of local police, no matter what French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen says – and sent to concentration and labor camps for the crime of being born Jewish.
The Palestinian security prisoners seeking international sympathy have committed crimes ranging from planning and carrying out mass terror attacks to throwing Molotov cocktails at private vehicles, hoping the Jewish drivers and their families will die as flames engulf them.
The Palestinian prisoners come from a society that grants “martyrdom” the highest esteem, but they are not saints. And, no matter how many convicts are released as “confidence-building measures” in the name of peace negotiations, any future state that they create is not going to be a smaller, Middle Eastern version of Australia. It is more likely to be plagued by Syrian-style civil war as tribal loyalties clash.
Israeli prisons are no picnic, but they are not the purgatory Barghouti pretends them to be.
During a similar hunger strike involving Barghouti five years ago, I recalled an incident when I was serving in the IDF on a base on the Golan Heights. Police at a local station asked me to serve as an interpreter when they questioned a Scottish volunteer who had been arrested for theft on the kibbutz where he was staying.
I still recall the somewhat farcical effort at simultaneous interpretation of the thickest Glaswegian accent I’d ever heard – complicated by the fact that the suspect’s name was Hugh and the words “who” and “hu,” meaning “he” in Hebrew, came up a lot during questioning.
Hugh could not stand the food at the police station. It was Passover and the burglar (he confessed his crime) clearly considered matza a cruel and unusual punishment and begged me to intervene and get him some “real bread.”
It’s not hard to imagine the possible headlines in, for example The New York Times
, had he been a young Palestinian detained on terrorist-related charges – and then forced to abide by a Jewish-dictated diet while police were trying to extract a confession, instead of a petty thief who abused the hospitality of a kibbutz where doors are rarely locked.The New York Times
this week, after all, not only gave Barghouti a prestigious platform for his claims of having been tortured before being imprisoned, it also failed to mention that the leader of Tanzim, one of Fatah’s “military” wings, was serving five life sentences for masterminding terrorist attacks that took the lives of four Israelis and a Greek monk who was mistaken for a Jew.
It describes him only as “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.”
Following the angry response to this convenient omission – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likened it to referring to Bashar Assad only as a “doctor” – Liz Spayd, the paper’s public editor, published a clarification.
Incidentally, Barghouti also holds the title “doctor”: While in prison, he earned a doctorate in political science from an Egyptian university. Several reports mention his appetite for political literature, including a biography of Margaret Thatcher (though what he thinks of the Iron Lady’s uncompromising attitude that led to the deaths of hunger-striking IRA prisoners I have yet to discover).
The imprisoned Fatah leader is also the star of a movie. The Palestinian Mission in the UK had been planning to screen Marwan: A film about the life and struggle of Marwan Barghouti, at London’s Mayfair Hotel in the evening of April 23 (as Israelis begin to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day).
The free event, organized by the Fateh Movement-UK and the General Union of Palestinian Communities in Europe, was canceled by the hotel after it received complaints, according to Palestinian Media Watch.
The organizers claim the documentary shows Marwan’s “many faces... from resistance fighter to advocate of the two-state solution and demonstrates how his personal story is symbolic of the Palestinian people’s fight for freedom and independence.”
At least there was enough public pressure by those who recognize Barghouti’s true and and ugly face, but even today in terror-racked Europe, there are those who easily swallow Barghouti’s sob story. Terrorism is more palatable if Israel can be blamed rather than seen as the victim. The demands of the Palestinian prisoners are the best testament to the fact that their conditions are far from dire: They want access to more Arabic-language cable television stations, further education, easier conditions for family visits for prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza (which were cut by the Red Cross from every other week to once a month), and public phones to keep in touch with their families.
Most of these privileges were rescinded in 2011 in an attempt to place pressure on their leaders while Gilad Schalit was being held incommunicado in Gaza. It is worth remembering that there are still three Israeli citizens and the bodies of two IDF soldiers being held in Gaza, albeit most likely under the auspices of Hamas rather than Fatah.
Before having pity for the prisoners whom Barghouti claims to represent, consider his victims and their families.
The serial hunger-striker is power-hungry as well as bloodthirsty. Many observers believe that Barghouti’s latest move is less about the conditions in which the inmates find themselves and more about his political appetite. His popularity boosted by his time in prison, he is often touted as a possible successor to 82-year-old Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. His supporters describe him as a “moderate,” apparently mistaking his pragmatism and political astuteness.
Some things never change. In 2005, former Prisons Service chief Yaacov Ganot told The Jerusalem Post’s
then-defense reporter and now editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz, that Barghouti was running a political campaign from his cell with the help of his legal advisers. It was Ganot who helped bring an end to a hunger strike by thousands of Palestinian prisoners the previous year by releasing footage showing Barghouti surreptitiously eating in his cell.
Hunger-striking is somehow considered noble, the bread and butter of civil protest. It is also hard to fight, any response automatically appearing violent, and providing more fodder for Palestinian public relations.
As Barghouti himself put it in the NYT op-ed: “Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.”
Unfortunately when the New York Times
and others give Barghouti a place to pontificate, it’s not the rumbling of empty stomachs that are heard but the ruminations of a convicted terrorist and murderer, starved for self-serving attention. However much Barghouti is sanitized, it doesn’t mean his hands were never stained with firstname.lastname@example.org