Archive for the 'Marwan Barghouti' Category

Palestinians demand release of jailed leader Barghouti

Published March 27th, 2014

As part of their tit-for-tat negotiations with Israel, Palestinians have demanded the release of political prisoner Marwan Barghouti.

Barghouti was arrested in 2002, and convicted by an Israeli court in 2004. He is serving five life sentences, one for each of the murders he is allegedly responsible for, though Barghouti continues to deny allegations that he directly ordered the killings.

Barghouti’s case is a controversial one because despite a significant number of Israelis viewing him as a terrorist, many people, both Israelis and Palestinians, believe he may be their best hope for arriving at a two-state solution.

The Guardian reports Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan’s wife, visits him twice a month for 45 minutes at a time. She brings him books — he reads voraciously — news of their grown children, and updates on the peace talks. Several times throughout Barghouti’s imprisonment, the possibility of negotiations for his release have arisen, yet still he remains behind bars.

“He has spent 18 years of his life in an Israeli prison. He was deported for seven years. It has been a long and horrible journey,” says Fadwa. “Despite all this he believes the conflict should be resolved by a two-state solution. He does not believe there is an alternative in a one-state solution except more bloodshed and more agony.”

According to Ziad Abu Ein, his longtime friend and colleague, Barghouti advocates civil disobedience, not armed struggle, to protest Israel’s occupation.

These renewed calls for Marwan Barghouti’s release come at a time when Barghouti has gained considerable political clout as an iconic Palestinian figure. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas even asked President Obama to put pressure on Israel to release Barghouti during his visit to the White House last week.

Perhaps because Barghouti seems his likely successor.

Barghouti has tremendous public support — News of Barghouti’s potential release swayed Palestinian opinion, from 75 percent being against talks with Israel to 50 percent now supporting negotiations — and is a strong candidate to replace Mahmoud Abbas as president of Palestine, a development that could make his continued imprisonment a politically compromising position for Israel.

Speaking to the Guardian, Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli politician long opposed to Marwan’s incarceration, said, “If Mahmoud Abbas does not stand again for president and Barghouti does run, he will win easily. Then Israel will have the Palestinian president in jail.”

Palestinians seek Barghouti’s release as condition for extending talks

Free Marwan Barghouti

Free Marwan Barghouti

A rising star in the dominant Fatah party before he was captured by Israeli troops in 2002. Marwan Barghouti could be the key to keeping talks alive.

By The Associated Press | Mar. 19, 2014 | 11:01 PM

The Palestinians are seeking the freedom of Marwan Barghouti, who is serving multiple life sentences for his alleged role in killings of Israelis, as part of any plan to extend negotiations with Israel beyond an April deadline, several top officials said.

A prominent Palestinian uprising leader imprisoned by Israel, Barghouti could soon emerge as the key to keeping fragile U.S.-led peace efforts alive.

A release of Barghouti, a popular figure among Palestinians, could inject new life into the troubled peace process, boost embattled Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and even provide the Palestinians with a plausible successor to their 78-year-old leader.

But Israel seems unlikely to approve the request, setting the stage for a possible breakdown in the talks.

The Palestinians have two demands for an extension: a freeze in Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the release of the most senior prisoners held by Israel, first and foremost Barghouti, senior official Nabil Shaath and Prisoner Affairs Minister Issa Qaraq told AP.

Israel was already forced to release dozens of prisoners convicted of deadly violence to make the current round of talks possible, but Barghouti remains jailed.
With Israel not expected to halt settlement construction, the Palestinians say they will drive a tough bargain on the prisoner issue. Palestinian officials and Barghouti’s family said Abbas raised the issue of Barghouti’s release in his White House meeting this week with President Barack Obama.

“President Abbas demanded the release of the political leaders in jail like Marwan Barghouti, Ahmad Saadat and Fuad Shobaki,” said Qaraqi, the prisoner affairs minister.

Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, said Abbas is “exerting his efforts to release Marwan and he is very serious about it.”

Israeli officials said the matter has not yet come in the talks. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Saadat heads a faction that killed an Israeli Cabinet minister in 2001 and is serving a 30-year sentence for allegedly participating in attacks. Shobaki, a former top Palestinian official, is the alleged mastermind of an attempt to smuggle a large shipment of weapons to the Palestinians on a ship that was intercepted by Israeli naval commandos in 2002.

But no prisoner is more prized by the Palestinians than Barghouti, who was a rising star in the dominant Fatah party before he was captured by Israeli troops in 2002. Israel says Barghouti, 54, was a leader of the violent uprising in the West Bank early last decade. He is serving five life terms for alleged involvement in the deaths of four Israelis and a Greek monk.

The Palestinians say Barghouti is a politician who had no direct involvement in any of the killings.

Barghouti’s release could be critical for Abbas. The Palestinian leader has seen his popularity plummet due to the lack of progress in peace talks. Winning Barghouti’s freedom would be a huge moral victory for him.

And at almost 79, Abbas has recently acknowledged he cannot serve forever. Yet he has never designated a successor and is facing a rising challenge by an exiled former aide, Mohammed Dahlan. Barghouti is perhaps the only member of Fatah’s next generation of leaders with the gravitas to confront that challenge.

Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri said Abbas desperately needs Barghouti’s release, both to justify continued talks with Israel and to finally have a clear successor.

Fadwa Barghouti said her husband remains intimately involved in Palestinian affairs from his cell in an isolated bloc of the Hadarim prison in central Israel.

She said he shares a cell with two other men and is allowed to go outdoors into a courtyard twice a day – one hour each time – for exercise and a walk. She said he starts his day with exercise and then reads four Israeli newspapers. In addition to his native Arabic, Barghouti speaks Hebrew and English.

As a member of Fatah’s leadership, Barghouti is briefed on the negotiations through his wife, who is in close contact with the Palestinian leadership and visits him twice a month.

“He was hoping that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry would succeed in striking a deal based on the Israeli commitment to end the occupation on the 1967 borders,” she said.

Barghouti, like other Palestinian leaders, wants to establish an independent state in all of the territories captured by Israel in 1967: the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, she said. Several past Israeli offers, by more moderate governments than Netanyahu’s, seemed to come close, but ultimately fell short.

The fate of the roughly 5,000 prisoners held by Israel is deeply emotional in Palestinian society. Virtually every Palestinian has a friend or relative who has served time in Israel, and the prisoners are revered a s freedom fighters.

But the issue is equally emotional for Israelis, who see prisoners like Barghouti as terrorists.

At the outset of talks last July, Israel agreed to release 104 long-serving prisoners in four stages. But the fourth and final stage, scheduled later this month, is suddenly in jeopardy.

The previous releases, including dozens of men who were convicted in deadly attacks, have been accompanied by jubilant celebrations by Palestinians and attended by Abbas himself, angering many in Israel. On Tuesday, Israel’s chief peace negotiator said the final release was not guaranteed unless there was progress in the talks.

For that reason, the release of Barghouti could become a contentious issue in the coming weeks. Israeli officials have rejected repeated attempts to include him in past prisoner releases.

Still, Israel could be tempted. During the peace talks of the 1990s, Barghouti was generally liked by the Israelis, had many friends among them, and was considered a moderate interlocutor. With many Israelis concerned that Abbas will be followed by more radical nationalists or Islamists, a Barghouti ascension, despite his supposed actions during the uprising, might not seem like the worst option.
Without a significant gesture, the Palestinians could soon walk away from the negotiating table.

Shaath gave a glimpse of what could lie ahead, saying the Palestinians would soon resume a campaign for UN recognition if Israel does not carry out the final scheduled prisoner release. Israel bitterly opposes the U.N. campaign, since the Palestinians have said they will use their enhanced international status to press for anti-Israel action. The Palestinians halted the campaign in exchange for Israel’s pledge to free prisoners.

“We committed to not applying to the UN agencies and Israel committed to release 104 prisoners in four batches,” he said. “That was the deal. If Israel breaches it, we will too.”

Under heavy U.S. pressure, Israel and the Palestinians restarted negotiations last July, setting a nine-month target for wrapping up a comprehensive peac e deal establishing a Palestinian state and ending a century of conflict. After realizing this was unrealistic, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry scaled back his ambitions and said he would aim for a “framework” peace deal by the April deadline.

With even that more modest goal in question, the sides are now searching for a formula that will allow the talks to continue.

The Palestinians have been skeptical about the chances of success, distrusting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A prolonging of the talks means continuing shelving of their previous plans to press for recognition, even without a peace deal, with various international bodies.

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Marwan Barghouti – Palestine’s Mandela

Barghouti and Arafat

Marwan Barghouti’s popularity can give new momentum to the Palestinian struggle.

By Shannon Ebrahim

October 29, 2013 “Information Clearing House – “Al-Jazeera” – On Sunday, October 27, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation launched an international campaign from the infamous Robben Island – where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years – for the release of Marwan Barghouti and all Palestinian political prisoners.

The symbolism is powerful. Kathrada launched the “Release Mandela” campaign in 1963, just prior to his own arrest, which saw him also incarcerated on South Africa’s Robben Island for 18 years. Now half a century later, as an 84-year-old veteran, he is launching yet another campaign for an iconic freedom fighter.

Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, travelled to Robben Island with the Palestinian Minister for Detainees, along with hundreds of special guests, including South African struggle veterans and five Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

Barghouti was the first member of the Palestinian Legislative Council to be arrested by Israel, and is one of the most prominent of the more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners who remain incarcerated in Israeli jails. The European Union and the Inter-Parliamentary Union have called for his release.

Barghouti’s struggle

Huddled in the back of a fish restaurant in the Gaza Strip in 2001, a few African National Congress (ANC) members of parliament and I sat whispering with Marwan Barghouti. We knew he was number one on Israel’s hit list, but little did we know that within nine months he would be kidnapped by Israeli forces, interrogated and tortured for 100 days, put in solitary confinement for 1,000 days, and, more than 11 years later, become known as “the Palestinian Mandela”.

In an interview Barghouti gave to Al-Monitor in May 2013, he described how the Israelis had kept him in solitary confinement for almost three years in a tiny cell infested with cockroaches and rats. His windowless cell had denied him aeration or direct sunlight, with dirt falling from the ceiling. He was only allowed one hour of exercise a day while handcuffed. He proved unbreakable after three years.

Barghouti’s defiance of the largest military power in the Middle East was inspiring, reminiscent of the fiery determination of the ANC leaders in South Africa twenty years earlier. At the time we met him he was the Secretary General of Fatah, the leader of Fatah’s armed branch Tanzim, and had been the brains behind the first and second intifada. His revolutionary spirit was electric.

He knew very well that sooner or later Mossad would catch up with him, despite his best efforts at being a black pimpernel. In one of a number of attempts to assassinate Barghouti in 2001, the Israeli military ended up killing his bodyguard in a targeted strike. In April 2002, Israeli forces hid in the back of an ambulance and ambushed the house he was staying in, grabbing him. He was later charged for his activities under Tanzim and given five life sentences.

But as with most exceptional freedom fighters elsewhere, his message and persona grew in prison. His popularity has surpassed that of all Palestinian leaders – both in Hamas and Fatah – and he is being hailed by Palestinians as a unifying figure who could lead his people to freedom.

His propensity to unite Fatah and Hamas into one powerful liberation movement insisting on a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders makes him a dangerous threat to Israel’s political establishment. Barghouti’s message is so powerful that Hamas has rallied behind him. When Hamas recently engaged in negotiations on a prisoner exchange with Israel in return for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, they had put Marwan Barghouti at the top of their list. For Israel, Barghouti’s release was not negotiable.

Apartheid and resistance

Palestinian unity threatens Israel’s strategy – which seems to be to delay peace talks, claiming to have no peace partner, while grabbing more land through settlements. That strategy has worked so far, in that settlement building has increased three or four times over the two decades of negotiations. What is left of historic Palestine is Swiss cheese – full of holes, with little contiguous territory. Its comparison to the old South African Bantustan maps is hard to avoid. Where Palestinian villages and towns remain, they are surrounded by the massive apartheid wall, in most instances cut off from their water resources and farm land, which have been annexed by Israeli settlers.

Where Mahmoud Abbas has given in to Israeli demands, opposing all forms of armed resistance, and establishing unprecedented economic and security cooperation with the occupying authorities, Marwan Barghouti has called for an end to all forms of cooperation with the Israeli occupation. Barghouti has been against the collaboration of US-trained Palestinian security forces with Israeli forces, which he believes has guaranteed the security of growing Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Barghouti has also been scathing about the Arab Ministerial delegation to Washington in April 2013, which proposed amending the 1967 borders in return for land swaps. He considers this the Arab rulers’ worst betrayal of the Palestinian cause. While the Gulf monarchies may have tried to gamble with the future of the Palestinian people, Barghouti’s principled stand has found resonance on the Arab street.

The most famous Palestinian political prisoner is now calling for a third intifada – a non-violent mass uprising. Non-violent protest will deny Israel the ability to dismiss legitimate Palestinian demands as “terrorism”, a strategy that has discredited the Palestinian cause for many outside observers. It will be a Palestinian version of the Arab Spring that will dominate the headlines and galvanise international public opinion.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is only too well aware of the dangers of such calls. His focus at the United Nations and in private diplomacy on Iran as a nuclear threat has deflected the world’s attention from Palestinian independence, settlement building, and freeing legitimate peace partners.

If Barghouti’s attempt, from prison, to inspire a non-violent protest movement captures the imagination of Palestinians, it could start a significant new chapter in the heretofore tragic history of the Palestinians’ struggle for justice.

Shannon Ebrahim is a South African columnist on foreign affairs, a freelance writer, and political consultant. She has worked as the Director for International Relations for the South African Presidency, and coordinated Government policy on the Middle East and East Africa. Follow her on Twitter: @shannonfield7