Marwan Barghouti: A Decade of Defiance

Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti (C) is accompanied by Israeli prison guards after a deliberation at Jerusalem Magistrate’s court, in this 25 January 2012 file photo. (Photo: REUTERS – Ammar Awad – Files)

Despite spending the past 10 years in prison, Marwan Barghouti remains at the forefront of the Palestinian liberation movement.

In mid-April 2002, Israeli occupation forces invaded Palestinian cities under Operation Defensive Shield.

The Israeli government at the time was after Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who managed to disappear for three weeks before he was arrested under circumstances that remain unclear to this day.

Barghouti is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and the Secretary-General of Fatah in the West Bank, but the Israeli state accused him of leading al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and deemed his arrest a great success.

The verdict of five life sentences and 40 years in prison that Barghouti was handed is a clear indication of Israel’s recognition of the “threat to Israel” that he represents. This was expressed by one Israeli leader who described Barghouti as a “young Abu Ammar,” Yasser Arafat’s nom de guerre.

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon once said that he prefers to see Barghouti dead rather than in prison, because he is the engineer and the brains behind the intifada, and he is a symbol of Palestinian national unity and resistance.

Despite his forced absence from the Palestinian public arena, Barghouti is still at the forefront of the political scene. An opinion poll revealed that 55 percent of Palestinians would elect Barghouti if he were to run for the presidency and president Mahmoud Abbas does not run.

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which conducted the poll, explained that Barghouti swept other Fatah candidates by a big margin, receiving 55 percent of respondents’ votes, while other candidates did not receive more than 3 percent each.

Palestinian political analyst Khalil Shahin refers to three main factors to explain Barghouti’s popularity.

The first is the struggle factor: “Barghouti was always at the forefront of the leaders standing with the people. He had been exiled and detained and with the start of the second intifada, he led the protests,” says Shahin.“The decisive factor of the legitimacy of any leader,” he adds, “is joining the ranks of the people and that is what Barghouti did.”

The second factor, according to Shahin, is “the nature of the discourse adopted by Barghouti as it is nationalist par excellence. It is not factional and it is not Fatah-centered. Barghouti walked in the footsteps of national leaders like the late Arafat, George Habash, Abu Iyad, Abu Jihad, and others.”

The third factor has to do with “the staunch positions” held by Barghouti and “represented in the last message he issued from prison in which he spoke about the political process, the senseless negotiations, reconciliation, and corruption which might push for the adoption of an new path in the Palestinian strategy for the next phase.”

In addition, the vision proposed by Barghouti, says Shahin, “scares Israel because it might represent the opening of new path in Palestinian resistance against Israel in order to isolate it internationally, which Israel considers a grave danger.”

Despite his imprisonment, the Israelis could not stop Barghouti’s continued struggle as he issued a series of messages to the Palestinian people from inside his prison cell.

On the 10th anniversary of his arrest, Barghouti called for an end to all forms of security and economic cooperation with Israel and for launching wide-ranging popular resistance.

“Experience has demonstrated that there is no partner for peace in Israel. Even worse, settlement building multiplied three or four times over the course of two decades of negotiations and the Judiazation of Jerusalem is accelerating in an unprecedented manner,” his message read.“We must confirm the absolute right of our people to resist the occupation by all forms, means, and methods, and concentrate this resistance in the territories occupied in 1967 while highlighting the importance of choosing the appropriate form and method for the current phase,” he added.

Barghouti also spoke in his letter about the importance of achieving reconciliation and national unity, and the need for the Palestinian leadership to deal seriously and responsibly with this issue.

He urged pairing resistance with work at the level of diplomacy, politics, and negotiations, as well as struggle and popular activism.

He called for a complete official and popular boycott of Israeli products and goods, and for encouraging people to purchase Palestinian products. He also called for the renewing efforts to achieve Palestinian membership in the United Nations.

Barghouti did not forget the most important issue and that is battling corruption which he saw as another face of the occupation. He said “the symbols of corruption who have not been held accountable yet must be held to account.”

Palestinian public opinion might differ on the question of reconciliation but there is an agreement on Barghouti’s strong presence and his nationalist discourse.

Despite him being in prison for 10 years, he has the final word on many sensitive matters having to do with the issue of prisoners, Fatah, and the Palestinian Authority.


Exist to Resist

The Palestinian prisoner and MP Marwan Barghouti was born in 1959 in the village of Kobar to the northwest of Ramallah. He joined Fatah at the age of 15.

He was arrested and put in prison by the Israeli occupation forces in 1976 when he was only 18 years old.

After his release, Barghouti headed the Birzeit University Student Council and graduated with a degree in History and Political Science and an MA in International Relations.

He was arrested again in 2002 and has been in prison since then.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.



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