Marwan Barghouti entouré de gardiens de prison.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
At first, the story was hilarious: convicted Palestinian terrorist and politician (the two aren’t mutually exclusive) Marwan Barghouti, leader of a highly publicized hunger strike, eating in his prison cell. Hah! And then I saw the video of Barghouti eating cookies and a candy bar in the corner of his cell, like a rat, and it turned from hilarious to pathetic. And then I thought about it a bit more and it turned from pathetic to cripplingly depressing.
How angry must Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan have been about that Barghouti New York Times editorial to release the video of Barghouti in his cell! And how incredibly petty, vindictive and spiteful it was. It wasn’t enough that he got his right of reply in the same newspaper that published Barghouti’s article. He had to sully the man’s reputation on the Palestinian street, which overwhelmingly supports Barghouti over Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh to lead the national cause. Today it seems inconceivable that Barghouti will ever step outside Kishon Prison as a free man, although Israel has swapped prisoners before and they probably will again.
This land has a history of terrorists moderating their approaches and transitioning into legitimate political figures. After all, Yitzhak Shamir wasn’t exiled and interned in Eritrea by the British for jaywalking and Menachem Begin wasn’t on the run from the British, posing as a rabbi, because he hadn’t paid a parking ticket. Among other acts, Shamir authorized the assassinations of British Minister for Middle East Affairs Lord Moyne and United Nations representative to the Middle East Count Folke Bernadotte in 1944 and 1948, respectively. Begin was responsible for the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel, which killed 91 people, including Jews, Arabs and British. Some might refer to these as legitimate military targets, but the Irgun also killed hundreds of defenseless Arabs in market bombings across British Mandate Palestine. Both went on to become prime ministers of the state of Israel.
How omnipresent and omnipotent Israel is that a prisoner can’t even break a hunger strike in peace. It’s not as if Barghouti poses a concrete threat behind bars, he's not smuggling out plans for terrorist attacks, just a letter for the pages of America’s leading liberal newspaper. Erdan released the tape solely out of vengeance, to shame him and to break the spirit of the Palestinians, as done so often before.
However, now that the videos are out and there’s no putting the well-fed genie back in his bottle, the episode also highlights how willing the Palestinian street is to look anywhere but in the mirror for a scapegoat. Predictably, Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, at a press conference dismissed the recording as “fabricated” and “despicable.” Yes, a Zionist fake. Of course. And she’s no sheltered Palestinian housewife; Fadwa has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in law, she’s a voice for Palestinian prisoners and the leading advocate for her husband’s release. Israel-blaming goes all the way up the Palestinian social ladder. Moreover, something tells me that Fadwa won’t take Israel Prison Services spokesman Assaf Librati up on his offer to have the tape analyzed to see if it’s real or a fake.
The struggle for a Palestinian state is a necessary one, that in the long run, could serve both Israeli and Palestinian interests. Yet for years, the Palestinians have been cursed with abhorrent leadership. From the beginning of Palestinian nationalism with Nazi-allied grand mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini to Yasser Arafat, who US president Bill Clinton blamed for the failure of the Oslo Accords, to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has managed to extend the four-year term to which he was elected in 2005 into 2017.
In the aforementioned New York Times opinion piece, Barghouti writes, “Hunger strikes inflict 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.”
He’s absolutely right – when hunger strikers are actually fasting. Take Gandhi, for example, who undertook 17 fasts while India was struggling against the British for independence. The Palestinians deserve a leader like Gandhi, rather than one who can’t seem to practice what he preaches. While cheating on a hunger strike might seem frivolous, a white lie, it’s a symptom of a broader issue. Self-service over service to the nation is a recurring theme in Palestinian society, with millions of dollars worth of aid money siphoned off to build mansions in Ramallah and Dubai.
Part of the reason the Zionist movement was so successful is because it had adherents who said, “It is good to die for your country,” and then did precisely that.