To some observers, Marwan Barghouti promises a path to peace. To others, he inspires liberation. And to his jailers, he is a mass murdering terrorist.
Marwan Barghouti is widely seen as the most popular political figure in Palestinian society, but he is currently serving a life sentence for murder in an Israeli prison. Last week, Barghouti began a mass hunger strike with more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, demanding greater rights and changes to what he calls abhorrent prison conditions and treatment.
“Israel has established a dual legal regime, a form of judicial apartheid,” argues Barghouti in the New York Times, “that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance. Israel’s courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation.”
Barghouti’s hunger strike and op-ed have sparked fervent discussion as to its motives and validity. Among Israeli and Palestinian lawmakers and people, who this man is and what he wants remains open to debate, and public views are no less diverse. Here is a brief look at what prominent writers are saying about the controversial Palestinian leader.
Ben-Dror Yemini, Y Net News: “Barghouti Is Intentionally Lying, And So Is New York Times”
“It’s possible that, one day, Barghouti will go back to being the man he used to be. I wish. Inshallah. That doesn’t justify publishing a terrorist’s op-ed. That doesn’t justify publishing lies to justify a hunger strike of murderers. That doesn’t justify the leading newspaper’s double standards. This is not the way to advance peace — this is the way to support terror and lies.”
Famed Israeli journalist and writer Ben-Dror Yemini recalls his past friendship with Barghouti when his Palestinian counterpart emerged in the 90s as a leading voice in the Palestinian peace camp. But 20 years and one very violent Intifada later, Yemini only sees his former friend as distorting the comparatively tolerable conditions that terrorists like Barghouti experience in Israeli jails—with The New York Times disseminating his lies.
Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel: “With Prison Strike, Barghouti Hopes To Prove Palestinian Street Is Still His”
“Barghouti’s problem is that the situation on the Palestinian street is no longer what it was in 2000. He has been isolated in prison, and it is not certain that his strike will find a following, let alone spur despondent West Bank residents to action. These days, those communities do not rush to demonstrate as they did in the past, focusing more on personal matters than collective ones. They are more prone to “like” a Facebook post than to take to the streets.”
While remaining popular in the streets, Barghouti’s political capital has diminished in prison, posits Avi Issacharoff. This strike will be a test of whether Barghouti can reassert authority and respect from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who by contrast has struggled with widespread unpopularity.
The Jerusalem Post Editorial Board: “No Barghouti Option”
“Barghouti is a savvy political manipulator who has managed to remain relevant despite his incarceration a decade and a half ago. He is using the Palestinian prisoners as his latest ploy for self-advancement.”
The conservative Jerusalem Post editorial staff pores through the Palestinian prisoner demands to conclude this strike has nothing to do with prisoner conditions and everything to do with promoting Barghouti’s prospects for release and, ultimately, power.
Shannon Ebrahim, Al-Jazeera: “Palestine’s Mandela”
“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 galvanize international public opinion.”
South African columnist Shannon Ebrahim, who previously interviewed Barghouti shortly before his arrest, offers the Palestinian-aligned viewpoint that Barghouti can be the Palestinian Mandela in the role of a liberator. Ebrahim believes Barghouti is the primary candidate to unify the Palestinian people, which is the Israeli regime’s greatest fear.
Steven Davidson is an editorial fellow at The Forward