After a Land Day (March 30) statement in which Marwan Barghouti called on Palestinians to launch a popular resistance campaign against Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, the popular Palestinian leader (who was already in prison) was placed in solitary confinement. To ignore his warning is the wrong decision, one that can prove costly for the cause of peace in the region.
Barghouti’s imprisonment has been sharply criticized by Haaretz, one of the leading Israeli newspapers. A recent Haaretz editorial states, “We can understand him. If Israel had wanted an agreement with the Palestinians it would have released him from prison by now. Barghouti is the most authentic leader Fatah has produced and he is one of the few who can lead his people to an agreement.”
Barghouti, a stocky 53 year-old man, has an influence on Palestinians which is inversely proportional to his short stature. Born in the West Bank, since he was a young man he has been a fighter for Palestinian rights and for an end to the occupation of Palestinian land. He joined Fatah when he was 15 years-old and when he was 18 he was arrested by Israeli authorities for his involvement with Palestinian militant groups. He is fluent in Hebrew, which he learned while he was in prison.
In 1987, Barghouti was one of the leaders of the First Intifada, a Palestinian popular uprising against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza. It was a bloody uprising that resulted in the deaths of 1,100 Palestinians and 164 Israelis. In 1998, Barghouti earned an M.A. in International Relations from Birzeit University (BZU), and is married to Fadwa Ibrahim, a lawyer and a passionate advocate for Palestinian’s rights.
Barghouti had also a leading role in the Second Intifada, also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada, which started after Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, an area highly sacred to both Jews and Muslims. It began in late September of 2000 and ended roughly in 2005. The death toll was brutal: 5,500 Palestinians, 1,100 Israelis and 64 foreigners lost their lives. Barghouti was arrested during the uprising and deported to Jordan, where he stayed for seven years until he was allowed to return under the terms of the Oslo accords of 1994.
Disenchanted with the lack of progress of the Oslo accords, he advocated for a more militant approach in the conflict with Israel. In November of 2000 he declared, “We tried seven years of intifada without negotiations, then seven years of negotiations without intifada. Perhaps it is time to try both simultaneously.” In 2002 he wrote in The Washington Post, “The lack of Israeli security is born of the lack of Palestinian freedom. Israel will have security only after the end of occupation, not before.”
Barghouti has an unrivaled reputation for personal honesty. Because of that, he was in serious conflict with Yasser Arafat. He accused Arafat and the Fatah party of corruption and his security forces of human rights violations. Although Arafat remained silent about his conflict with Barghouti, Barghouti was highly regarded among Palestinians of all factions.
Barghouti has never hidden his opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. To the accusation that he was a terrorist he answered, “I am not a terrorist, but neither I am 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…I don’t seek to destroy Israel but only to end its occupation of my country.”
After Barghouti was put on trial, Uri Avnery, one of the leading Israeli peace activists who calls Barghouti ‘The New Mandela,’ wrote, “His trial was a mockery, resembling a Roman gladiatorial arena more than a judicial process.” Despite Israel’s misgivings, Barghouti may still represent the best chance for peace in the region. As the Haaretz editorial stated, “We should listen to him before it’s too late. If a third uprising breaks out, Israel will not be able to feign surprise. Barghouti warned us.”