PALESTINIANS WALK past graffiti depicting jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, currently serving five life terms for terrorism, on a section of the security wall on the road to Ramallah..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When security prisoners go on a hunger strike, they are usually motivated by discontent with their incarceration. Ostensibly, a demand for improved conditions is what sparked the open-ended hunger strike launched by 1,187 convicted Palestinian terrorists being held in Israeli prisons for murder or other forms of violence or support for violence.
Judging from their demands – public phones in the security wards, reinstating a second visiting period each month and restarting academic studies programs so that prisoners can receive academic degrees – the situation is not all that bad. These prisoners might not be able to earn advanced degrees or use the phone whenever they want to and they might have to wait a month to meet loved ones.
But it is doubtful that terrorists held in Guantanamo Bay, in European prisons or in those of democratic countries in the Far East receive any better conditions – particularly not terrorists who murdered innocent civilians.
In fact, the real impetus for the hunger strike seems not to be about prisoners’ rights at all, but rather it is a political initiative designed to promote Marwan Barghouti, probably the single most popular Palestinian political leader despite his sentencing 15 years ago for five life terms for murder plus another 40 years.
An op-ed purportedly penned by Barghouti that appeared Monday in The New York Times
has further boosted his exposure both locally and abroad. Uproar resulting from the paper’s initial failure to mention that Barghouti was a convicted murderer responsible for helping to plan and carry out the slayings of four Israelis and a Greek Orthodox monk further publicized Barghouti.
Precious little attention was given to Barghouti’s victims: Yoela Hen, 45, shot dead as she stopped at a gas station in Givat Ze’ev on her way to a wedding; Eli Dahan, 53, Yosef Habi, 52, and police Sgt.-Maj. Salim Barakat, 33, murdered at the Sea Food Market Restaurant in Tel Aviv; and Greek Orthodox monk Tsibouktsakis Germanus.
The same court rejected the prosecution’s demand that Barghouti be convicted of an addition 21 murders due to lack of evidence.
A number of politicians and public intellectuals on the Left, such as former Meretz leader Haim Oron and writer Amos Oz, have touted Barghouti as a “moderate” Palestinian leader who has the ability to unite a deeply divided Palestinian public.
Barghouti is undoubtedly popular. In a March survey conducted by Dr. Khalil Shikaki, head of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, Barghouti garnered more support than any other Palestinian presidential candidate.
In a standoff against Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the second most popular candidate, Barghouti received 59% of the vote.
Those in Israel who support Barghouti remember him from before the second intifada. It was a period in the late 1990s when Barghouti opposed violent struggle and led the fight against corruption within the Palestinian political leadership.
But Barghouti was radicalized as a result of the collapse of the peace talks in 2000 between then-prime minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat. He turned to terrorism and became involved in the Tanzim, the military arm of Fatah which was responsible for some the most deadly terrorist attacks ever carried out against Israeli civilians.
Barghouti is a savvy political manipulator who has managed to remain relevant despite his incarceration a decade and a half ago. He is using the Palestinian prisoners as his latest ploy for self-advancement.
It is depressing that a man like Barghouti, with the blood of so many victims on his hands, has consistently been the most popular candidate to lead the Palestinian people. And it is not despite his murderously violent past, but precisely because of it, that Barghouti is able to beat a Hamas candidate for the Palestinian vote. This is the sad state of radicalized Palestinian politics that is the real obstacle to peace.
The idea that people can change is central to Judaism.
It forms the basis for Teshuva
– roughly translated as repentance or contrition, but more properly expressed as a return to one’s true moral nature. If Barghouti were popular for a brave call to stop violent terrorism and embrace peace that would be laudable. If, however, he enjoys the support of the Palestinian street due to his track record as a murderer who inflicted pain and suffering on Israelis, that is intolerable.