On April 15, 2002, 10 years ago this week, Marwan Barghouti, the secretary general of Fatah’s Tanzim militia, was arrested by members of the undercover Duvdevan unit of the Israel Defense Forces in Ramallah. His capture was preceded by two weeks of cat-and-mouse games with the IDF and the Shin Bet security service, during which the Israelis also disseminated threatening hints about an intention to assassinate him.
In April and May of 2002, immediately after Barghouti’s arrest by the IDF during Operation Defensive Shield, the Shin Bet interrogated him at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem. The records of the interrogation, which are being published here for the first time, were revealed during judicial proceedings that are now taking place and related to civil-damages suits filed against Barghouti and the Palestinian Authority. There are some 50 civil suits brought by victims of intifada violence and their families now pending before Israeli courts, and Barghouti is a plaintiff in many of them, together with the PA. These include a claim by victims of the March 5, 2002, Sea Food Market bombing in Tel Aviv, and others by relatives of Aharon Obadyan and Moshe Dayan, who were killed in attacks in July 2001 and March 2002, respectively. Barghouti’s general line of defense is that he does not recognize the authority of Israeli courts.
The records were obtained by Haaretz correspondent Chaim Levinson. They include memoranda by Shin Bet officials written during the course of Barghouti’s investigation, which in one instance are also backed up by an extensive and detailed transcript. Haaretz does not have either audio tapes or video footage of the interrogation sessions.
While Barghouti was being questioned, the IDF and the Shin Bet were hunting down the assemblers of explosive devices and dispatchers of suicide bombers in the casbah of Nablus and in the ruins of the Jenin refugee camp. In Rishon Letzion, on May 7, a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up in the Sheffield Club pool hall, murdering 16 Israeli citizens. Under American pressure, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ended the siege of the Muqata headquarters of PA Chairman Yasser Arafat in Ramallah, and changed his mind about expanding Operation Defensive Shield to the Gaza Strip as well.
Each of the Shin Bet interrogations of Barghouti - who also served as secretary general of Fatah in Judea, Samaria and Gaza; was a member of the Palestinian legislature and founded the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades - went on for hours. Barghouti’s partial confessions, which were recorded, were used two years later as evidence to indict him for three terror attacks: the June 12, 2001, murder (due to mistaken identity ) of a Greek Orthodox monk near Ramallah; the murder of Yoela Chen near Givat Ze’ev on January 15, 2002; and a Tel Aviv shooting attack of March 5, 2002, in which three civilians were killed at the Sea Food Market restaurant. The details Barghouti gave also helped to build a case against other Fatah military activists, who also spoke about him in their own interrogations. However, the court eventually acquitted Barghouti of involvement in additional attacks in 2001-2, which the prosecution was unable to prove.
Barghouti’s confessions indicate that PA Chairman Arafat issued a general directive to carry out terror attacks, but made sure not to get personally involved in any way that might incriminate him. Barghouti was convicted in 2004, and sentenced to five concurrent life sentences. Despite his hopes, the senior Fatah leader was not recently released as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.
For more, go to Haaretz.com