Marwan Barghouti, Amos Oz, Haim Oron and a tale of darkness

Terra Incognita: The next time someone decides to invite Oz or Oron to speak, they shouldn’t waste time; they should cut to the chase and invite Barghouti himself.

barghouti from prison  (photo credit: Channel 2 [file])
barghouti from prison
(photo credit: Channel 2 [file])
Assaf Harofeh Medical Center did something strange recently. It invited an author who dedicated and sent a copy of his book to a terrorist to speak at a ceremony for outstanding doctors. The doctors at Assaf Harofeh have often treated victims of terror.
On September 9, 2003 eight soldiers were killed and 32 wounded in a suicide bombing near the hospital entrance. So how did it come to invite a speaker who consorts with terrorists whose victims the doctors might treat? The answer is not simple. The author happens to be the country’s most famous writer, Israel Prize laureate Amos Oz. On March 16 Yediot Aharonot reported that Oz had sent a book to convicted Palestinian terror leader Marwan Barghouti. He had become aware that Meretz MK Haim Oron was in the habit of visiting Barghouti in prison, and Oz asked him to take a copy of his 2002 book A Tale of Love and Darkness. The book is a namedropping account of the author’s early life on Kibbutz Hulda, where he met many lions of the early Zionist movement. It also discusses his family’s successes, failures and passions.
Oz sent Barghouti an Arabic translation with the inscription: “This story is our story. I hope you read it and understand us better, as we attempt to understand you. Hoping to meet soon in peace and freedom.”
On March 24 it was announced that Assaf Harofeh had cancelled the affair. Reports noted that “a senior doctor threatened to disrupt the ceremony” if Oz attended. After the cancellation the “free speech” alarm was sounded. Haaretz reported that a senior doctor claimed“it is hard to believe that because of one doctor who has certain political opinions, they revoked Oz’s invitation to the conference... That’s political interference in hospital matters.”
Gideon Levy condemned the “really sick” hospital’s “censorship” and Soviet-style “witch-hunt,” adding: “Heaven forbid if Oz wants Barghouti to get to know us better. But in 2011 Israel, this was enough to provoke aggression and censorship. Now it isn’t just Barghouti who is labeled as a monster, but Oz, too.”
Levy called Oz “a middle-of-the-road, profoundly Zionist and patriotic author” who should make us all proud because his works have been translated into more than a dozen languages. Oz also “dares” to speak truth to power, writing in The New York Times in June that “Hamas is not just a terrorist organization. Hamas is an idea – a desperate and fanatical idea that grew out of the desolation and frustration of many Palestinians.
No idea has ever been defeated by force.”
I DON’T know what Oz’s personal feelings are for Barghouti. But the facts are clear. Barghouti was born in 1959 in a village north of Ramallah. He comes from a large, well-known Palestinian family. He joined Fatah at 15 and co-founded its youth movement. He was a long-time militant and student activist, eventually receiving both a BA and MA. During the second intifada he led Fatah’s most militant sections – Tanzim and the Aksa Martyrs Brigades. The brigades were responsible for killing more than 100 people, mostly civilians inside the Green Line, between 2001 and 2006. Barghouti was arrested in April 2002 and convicted of five counts of murder.
So why did Israel’s leading author support giving this man freedom? Why, furthermore, did a hospital invite such an author to speak? Why does it appear that only one leading doctor protested against this person giving the keynote speech? Why is it considered “political” to ban Oz, but not political to invite him? No one wants to censor Oz. He is entitled to his opinions. He can send his book to whomever he wants: Islamists, neo-Nazis, jailed members of the Ku Klux Klan, the African warlord Charles Taylor. But why must his opinion be forced upon doctors whose job is to save lives? Why must his opinions be forced upon public institutions, whether hospitals, high schools or universities? There is a fetishism in the support Barghouti receives. Oron is a major supporter. In a March interview he gave to Haaretz, the interviewer, Gidi Weitz, noted that “in the past few years, Oron has visited Hadarim Prison, in the center of the country, every few weeks to see his friend Marwan Barghouti.”
Oron believes Barghouti is a great supporter of the Israeli Left – a “super-significant figure” like a Nelson Mandela, a “partner for dialogue” who does not renounce his “right to an armed struggle.”
It seems to me that Oron and his friends support Barghouti partly out of a sense that history will judge them like it judged the Afrikaners who sat down with Mandela. They also support him because they believe only he can unify the Palestinians. But does it seem strange that within Israel there are so many wellknown, cultured, progressive Jewish voices who not only want to befriend a murderer but also believe it is important to unify Hamas and Fatah? Barghouti is a super-significant figure. But just because he can unify Palestinians doesn’t mean Jews should support him. It would be like Turks supporting the jailed Kurdish nationalist Abdullah Ocalan. It would be like the Palestinians supporting the release of Jewish nationalist settlers under the theory that only they can unify Israel against the Palestinians.
Oron and Oz work on behalf of the Palestinians to get Barghouti released. Oron calls Barghouti a “moderate,” but he is only moderate like Mussolini was moderate compared to Hitler or Lenin was moderate compared to Stalin. Barghouti is like summer at the North Pole; it is moderate compared to winter.
The next time someone decides to invite Oz or Oron to speak, they shouldn’t waste time; they should cut to the chase and invite Barghouti himself. At least that would be honest. And moderate.
The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University, and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.