Marwan Barghouti

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Marwan Barghouti

Prisoners' Movement Leader & Fatah Central Committee Member


Image:Marwan.jpg


Quotes:

"I am not a terrorist, but neither am I a pacifist. I am simply a regular guy from the Palestinian street advocating only what every other oppressed person has advocated-the right to help myself in the absence of help from anywhere else."

“We tried seven years of intifada without negotiations, and then seven years of negotiations without intifada; perhaps it is time to try both simultaneously.”

"There were those who were opposed to the conflict. At the same time, I saw within the situation a historic opportunity to ignite the conflict. The strongest conflict is the one that initiated from Jerusalem due to the sensitivity of the city, its uniqueness and its special place in the hearts of the masses who are willing to sacrifice themselves with not even thinking of the cost."


Background

You were born On June 6, 1959, in the village Kobar, near Ramallah. At the age of 15, you joined Fatah, the Palestinian national liberation movement, and gradually rose up its ranks. At the age of 18 you were arrested by Israel due to your involvement in a Palestinian uprising. While serving sentences in several Israeli prisons you managed to study Hebrew. After your release, you returned to the West Bank and became president of the student body at Bir-Zeit University, where you received a Bachelor's degree in history and political science and a Master's degree in international relations. Your interest in political action continued after the university as you actively participated in the first "intifada," or uprising, from 1987 to 1993. You were expelled from Israel for your role in these uprisings, and consequently, settled in Jordan where Yasser Arafat was residing in exile. Arafat took you under his wing and made you a political ally.

Since the Oslo accords and the formation of the Palestinian Authority however, you have been frequently critical of the corruption and authoritarianism of the Palestinian ruling figures, including Arafat. After the historic Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in 1993, you were among the first 30 exiles to return. In 1996, you were elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council, where you fought against corruption and for the sanctity of human rights and for social and economic justice. The Palestinian women’s movement considered you a valued ally in its own social struggle for emancipation. You were one of the major advocates for peace with Israel. Moreover, you were part of many Palestinian negotiating teams that conducted dialogue with Israelis. Due to your fluency in Hebrew, and your pragmatic views, you fostered strong relations with key figures in the Israeli peace camp, even within the Israeli right, and were considered a trustworthy ally by them.


The Second Intifada

As the former leader of Tanzim, you were one of the prominent leaders of the second Intifada. The Tanzim, which was a political branch of the Fatah party, became, under your influence, a militant terror organization similar to the Hamas or the Islamic Jihad. The Tanzim also carried out suicide bombings in Israel under the name Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Due to your disappointment at the outcome of the intense dialogue with the Israelis, you gradually transformed from a committed believer in dialogue to an outspoken and charismatic advocate of a full-fledged struggle against Israel. You advocated a political stance that opposed negotiations because you thought the Israeli government was prolonging the talks in order to further cement the occupation. As a reaction to Israel’s campaign to suppress the Palestinian violent resistance, you called for ‘escalating’ the intifada to convince Israel that peace cannot be achieved with occupation. You narrowly survived an Israeli assassination attempt in August, 2001, when a missile hit your bodyguard’s car, severely injuring him. Despite the close call, you defiantly declared the intifada would go on, even if you or other leaders were killed during the struggle.

During the second Uprising you were considered, by the majority of Palestinians, as the leader of the Intifada because you were one of the only leaders who publicly supported the violent actions against Israeli soldiers and innocent civilians. Other Palestinian officials who evidently supported the uprising using moral and financial means did not publicly show support for the violent attacks due to the heinous nature of targeting innocent people and using suicide bombers. You took advantage of the fact that you did not have to account for your actions to International powers, in contrast to Arafat, and publicly supported these attacks. Rapidly, you became the symbol of this uprising in the eyes of the Palestinians, and also in the eyes of the Israelis. Once seen as a negotiating partner and ally, your new political motivations greatly disappointed the Israelis, making them veer away from negotiations towards a more militant approach headed by current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.


Israeli Captivity

After Sharon seized power from the left wing Ehud Barak, he decided to fight the uprising with all means necessary. You were one of the most important targets, and on April 15th, 2002, you were apprehended by the Israeli army, ‘Tzahal,’ in Ramallah. Tzahal took extreme measures to catch you alive for they wanted to prosecute you in order to suppress the uprising. Israel chose to try you in a civilian courtroom instead of in a military tribunal as Israel generally does with arrested Palestinian militants. Throughout your trial, you argued that the court lacked jurisdiction and that the trial itself was illegal. You specifically stated that you supported armed resistance to the Israeli occupation.

You were convicted on May 20, 2004 on five counts of murder, one of the victims being a Greek Orthodox monk, resulting from three attacks, one north of Jerusalem, one in Tel Aviv, and one in the West Bank. You were also found guilty on one count of attempted murder resulting from a failed suicide car bomb. You were acquitted of 21 counts of murder in 33 other attacks. On June 6, 2004, you were sentenced to five life sentences for the five murders and 40 years imprisonment for the attempted murder.

The fact that Israel chose to prosecute you in a civil courtroom has a significant meaning for your future. According to the Israeli law, only the President of Israel can pardon you and this can happen only if the legal advisor to the government decides to recommend so. Therefore, there was still a chance for Israel to free you; however, in order for this to happen, a combination of factors that rely on the Israeli government, the Israeli President, and the Israeli Department of Justice would have to be resolved.


Presidential Elections

On November 11, 2004, Yasser Arafat, the prominent leader of the Palestinian people, died from a mysterious disease. The Palestinian battle for the leadership of the Palestinian people began immediately. Due to the fact that there is no real democracy in the Palestinian territories and that no heir was prepared to inherit Arafat’s rule, an inner political struggle began. The old PLO leadership saw Mahmoud Abbas as the natural leader to replace Arafat. Abbas was also the leader that Israel, the United States, and the European Union wanted to see him as the person leading the Palestinians because he did not believe in a violent struggle and he held pragmatic views. You always considered yourself as one of the stronger leaders of the Fatah movement. As opposed to many of the old leaders you who were corrupt and were very unpopular among the crowds, you were loved by the people for your support for their daily struggles. When Arafat died you decided to use this opportunity in order to contend for the presidency. Although you did not have much chance of winning, the fact you considered yourself a candidate was very troubling for Abbas and many other Fatah members. Their objection was with having one candidate from the Fatah, in order to show unity after Arafat's death. Moreover, if Abbas would have won the presidency with a small margin, the people might not have accepted him. Therefore, it had significant importance to Mahmoud Abbas that you would not contend. You chose to participate in the elections for two reasons. To begin with, you tried to take advantage of this situation so as to possibly force the Israelis to release you from prison. More importantly, you considered yourself the ultimate leader of the Palestinian people and Arafat’s natural heir. On November 26, 2004, it appeared as though you would withdraw from the contest under pressure from Fatah. However, you changed your mind and signed up as a candidate. Again, you were pressured by several Fatah members who promised they would pressure Israel for your release. On December 12, 2004, you stated finally that you were withdrawing from the race for the sake of Palestinian unity.


Imprisonment

Even behind bars, you continue to be a strong force in Palestinian affairs; many fighters see you as the voice of Fatah’s “Young Guard,” and you easily won reelection to your parliamentary seat in the 2006 elections that brought Hamas to power. Your imprisonment has also continued to shake up Israeli-Palestinian relations, with Palestinians calling you a political prisoner or a prisoner of conscience, and many left-leaning Israelis, most notably Yossi Beilin of the Yachad party, strongly agreeing with them. In response to this pressure, the Israeli governments of Ariel Sharon and now Ehud Olmert have been forced to give public assurances to the effect that you will be released if and when a peace treaty is put into effect. When this will occur, however, is still anyone’s guess.

Within prison itself you have been active in mediating between Hamas and Fatah, especially as the political stalemate between Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Abbas degenerated into running street battles throughout 2006. You have been instrumental in securing peaceful accommodation between these two factions in the Israeli prison system, where many fighters are currently being held. This moderating influence on the armed factions culminated in the Saudi-brokered Hamas-Fatah power sharing agreement of early 2007, which promises to create a unity government by the middle of this year. You were in prison during the entirety of negotiations, but insiders still credit you and your network of contacts with making the process possible by giving the ranks of Palestine’s political prisoners a voice in the process.

In a surprising development, you were elected as a member of Fatah’s highest decision-making body, the Central Committee, at its August 2009 Party Congress, the first held by Fatah in twenty years. This development is a clear sign that you remain, even while in prison, a key figure in the future of Fatah and in Palestinian politics more generally.


Summary

You are one of the most popular Palestinian leaders. You are very charismatic, and you are still young. Most Palestinians see you becoming the President of the PLO or maybe Palestine in the future. However, you are currently a prisoner in an Israeli penitentiary. Although several Palestinians, including President Abbas, have been lobbying for your release, the Israelis have long been reluctant to release you. You have been very displeased with your Fatah peers, thinking they had abandoned you in Israel. It is widely believed that President Abbas is betting his political future on your ability, as a member of the Fatah 'New Guard,' to be able to negotiate a settlement with the Israelis that will have street credibility, as well as political credibility. Though Hamas plays its cards very carefully, you are regarded as being free of the taint of corruption in their eyes, which might lead them to tacit, if not full-throated support of any peace agreement you are able to reach.


Bibliography

Profile: Marwan Barghouti, BBC News Website, Dec 13 2004, Sep 25 2005. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1473585.stm>

Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti website, Aug 14 2005, Sep 25 2005. <http://www.freebarghouti.org/index_en.html>

Marwan Bin Khatib Barghouti, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sep 5 2002, Sep 25 2005. <http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2002/9/Marwan%20Bin%20Khatib%20Barghouti>

Ali Wakad, Efforts by Fatah to convey Barghouti to withdraw from elections, Ynet ‘ Yediot Ahronot Website, Nov 25 2004, Sep 25 2005. <http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3009495,00.html>

‘Marwan Barghouti.’ Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia, Sep 22 2005. Sep 25 2005 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marwan_Barghouti>

Photo from "Palestinian Biographies Website" at: http://lawrenceofcyberia.blogs.com/palestinian_biographies/marwan-barghouti-biograph.html

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