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Not All Heroes Fly; Some Sit in Jail For long Time Part 2

Marwan Barghouti


Marwan barghouti1Marwan Barghouti (Marwan Hasib Husayn al-Barghuthi): member of the Fatah Central Committee, former Secretary-General of the Fatah Higher Committee in the West Bank, and member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Probably the most popular Palestinian politician in the Occupied Territories, and widely regarded as a probable future Palestinian leader. An early and active supporter of the Oslo process, who became increasingly skeptical through the 1990’s that negotiations alone would end the Israeli Occupation. He was an outspoken supporter of armed resistance when the Oslo process collapsed in 2000, and became the personification of the al-Aqsa intifada to Palestinians and Israelis alike. Currently serving five consecutive life sentences plus forty years in Nafha Prison in the Negev, for alleged complicity in five murders carried out by the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.

Born 6 June 1959 in Kafr Kubr, nr Ramallah, into a large and politically-active West Bank family (Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian National Initiative, is a distant cousin). One of seven children; father was a migrant worker in Lebanon. His younger brother, Muqbel, describes him as “a naughty and rebellious boy”, who was a mediocre student at Amir Hassan Junior School.

Joined Fatah at age 15, and was a co-founder of the Fatah Youth Movement (Shabiba) on the West Bank. Arrested in 1978 and imprisoned for more than four years for “membership of a banned organisation”. Completed his secondary education and received high school diploma while in jail, and became fluent in Hebrew.

Enrolled at Birzeit University in 1983, though arrest and exile meant that he did not graduate B.A. (History and Political Science) until 1994. Received his M.A. (International Relations) also from Birzeit in 1998. As an undergradate, he was active in student politics on behalf of Fatah, and headed the BZU Student Council. On 21 October 1984, he married a fellow student, Fadwa Ibrahim. (Fadwa took Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in law and was a prominent advocate in her own right on behalf of Palestinian prisoners, even before becoming the leading campaigner for Marwan’s release from his current jail term). They have a daughter, Ruba (b. 1987), and three sons, Qassam (1986; also here), Sharaf (1989) and Arab (1991).


Marwan barghouti2 Marwan barghouti3

Family photos via al-Watan Voice, 24 Feb 2005; (expired link). View the rest of al-Watan’s Barghouti photos.


Barghouti was arrested in September 1985, and held without trial for 6 months under administrative detention. On the eve of the first intifada (in May 1997), he was expelled to Jordan for “incitement”, by then-Commander of the IDF Central Command, Gen. Ehud Barak. Served as a low-level liaison officer between the PLO in exile and Fatah in the Occupied Territories through the first intifada, which erupted shortly after his expulsion. Based first in Amman and subsequently at PLO headquarters in Tunis, where he was a protégé of Khalil Wazir (Abu Jihad). He was elected to the Fatah Revolutionary Council in August 1989, becoming its youngest ever member, and to the PLO Central Council, as an independent delegate.

He was allowed to return to the West Bank in April 1994, a result of the signing of the Oslo Accords. Barghouti was a strong advocate of a two-state solution, and strongly supported the peace process with Israel, believing that Oslo would eventually lead to a complete Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories of 1967 and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

On returning to Ramallah in 1994, he established the West Bank Fatah Higher Committee, to develop civil society in the Occupied Territories and to develop Fatah into a modern political party. This brought him into conflict with Arafat and his many supporters, who maintained that Fatah was still a revolutionary movement struggling for independence on behalf of Palestinians both in the Territories and in the Diaspora, and the transformation to a civil, political party should wait till after an independent Palestinian state had been achieved.

Barghouti was an outspoken critic of the centralisation of power around the person of Arafat, and became the leading representative of the reformist stream within Fatah. He called repeatedly (and continues to call) for the aging Fatah Central Committee to organize the long-delayed 6th Fatah Convention that would allow for the holding of the movement’s first internal elections since 1989, which would bring into power younger activists with grassroots support (the Young Guard) at the expense of the established leadership (the Old Guard/the Tunisians) who were in exile for a generation. He maintained that “in the past Fatah earned its right to lead the Palestinian national movement by virtue of the armed struggle of its fighters and the blood of its martyrs, now we have a Palestinian National Authority on Palestinian soil we must earn our legitimacy from the democratic choice of its people.” (Arafat attempted to remove him from leading the West Bank Fatah in 2000 by in favour of Husayn al-Shaykh, but Barghouti refused to be replaced and remained the recognised leader among the movement’s membership).

Within Fatah, Barghouti was most closely aligned with two former long-time prisoners in Israeli jails: Jibril Rajoub, head of the PA’s West Bank Preventative Security Service (and a former cell-mate of Barghouti’s at Beer Sheva jail), and Qadoura Faris, PLC member for Ramallah in the first PA parliament and later one of the leading Palestinian negotiators and signatories to the Geneva Accord. He also established good working relationships with the major Palestinian factions outside Fatah, including the Islamist movements.

Arafat was reluctant to empower Fatah leaders who had their own strong base of popular support, and excluded Barghouti from the Fatah slate for the first elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996. Barghouti nevertheless ran as an Independent candidate, and won a seat representing the Ramallah district. In Parliament he was a prominent campaigner on social and economic issues, and for women’s rights, but he particularly struck a chord with Palestinian public opinion when he expressed the widely-felt dissatisfaction with the performance of the PA leadership. He launched a campaign against human rights abuses by Arafat’s own security services and corruption among some of his officials, which included tabling a motion of no-confidence in the executive at the PLC in May 1997 over the issue of budgetary misuse. Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the influential pan-Arabic newspaper al-Quds, noted that: “Marwan Barghouti has always identified with the grass-roots rather than the leadership… His star really came into its ascendancy after he spoke out against the Palestinian Authority leadership.”

Barghouti also closely reflected Palestinian grassroots sentiment in his changing attitude to the Oslo peace process. He was initially an outspoken advocate of Oslo, and as a Parliamentarian worked closely with Israeli politicians across the political spectrum. “He had the telephone numbers of about half the Israeli Knesset,” one Israeli interlocutor later recalled.

I remember him from other times. A delegation to Europe that included Israeli Knesset members and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Barghouti made friends with everyone – Haim Ramon of Labor, Golan Heights settler Yehuda Harel, Yitzhak Vaknin and David Tal of Shas and Maxim Levy and Yehuda Lancry of the Likud. The only friction that arose was between him and Dedi Zucker: Zucker, a Maccabi Haifa fan, couldn’t tolerate Barghouti’s rooting for Hapoel Tel Aviv. On the last evening, Barghouti preferred the company of the Israelis to that of the wealthy Palestinians in Valencia, Spain, who had invited him over. Unbelievably, this was less than five years ago. Not even five years ago… (Gideon Levy)

Although his support for a negotiated two state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders remained consistent, by 1998 he publicly doubted whether Oslo was the vehicle to bring this about, and questioned whether Israel had entered the peace process with the intention of ending the occupation at all. The issue that soured Barghouti on Oslo, and which he regarded as the touchstone of Israel’s good faith in negotiating with the Palestinians, was the ongoing settlement project in the Occupied Territories.

Barghouti noted that while ostensibly talking peace, Israel during the Oslo years was planting just as many settlers on the Palestinian lands that were supposed to be the subject of the negotiations as they had done before the peace process existed. He viewed accelerated settlement in the OPT as a clear indicator of Israel’s bad faith in its alleged pursuit of peace, and concluded that the Oslo process was a fraud that on the Israeli side was never intended to lead to Palestinian independence. He felt particularly betrayed by the failure of the Israeli left to resist the growth of the settlements, which accelerated under both Likud and Labour governments.

We have no motivation to go out for new Intifada… We already paid the price for the former one. There is only one matter that can take us again out to the streets – the continuation of constructing settlements. We can accept the current situation for 100 years, even without another further redeployment, but will not accept new settlements. (Marwan Barghouti, 4 Feb 1998)

[I]t has been our experience that we cannot trust the Israelis. Since the Madrid conference till now – almost 10 years – we were going to the negotiating table, thousands of meetings, not hundreds believe me but thousands of meetings on a lot of issues like political, economics, security, etc. And what happened while we’re negotiating? The Israelis used the time…used the umbrella of the negotiations to build new settlements. Israel since the 1967 war to 1993 built roughly 25,000 housing units during the 26 years of Israeli occupation. Since 1993 until the eve of the Intifada – in a period of seven years – they built 23,400 new housing units. So I think the Israelis laugh at the Palestinians and use the negotiations to advance their own goals. (31 July 2002)

Barghouti called for the PA leadership to end to all negotiations with Israel until the Israeli government would freeze settlement activities and publicly commit itself to ending the occupation of 1967.

You must understand, once and for all, that you must end the occupation. You must announce that the occupation is over and that Israel is leaving the territories. Present a timetable of a month, six months, a year. The important thing is that you present a timetable for withdrawal from all of the territories and the dismantling of the settlements, and announce that you recognize an independent Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem…. The moment you announce the end of the occupation and recognize a sovereign, genuine Palestinian state, not a vassal state, at that very moment everything will change. (Maariv)

Israelis must abandon the myth that it is possible to have peace and occupation at the same time, that peaceful coexistence is possible between slave and master. 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. Once Israel and the rest of the world understand this fundamental truth, the way forward becomes clear: End the occupation, allow the Palestinians to live in freedom and let the independent and equal neighbors of Israel and Palestine negotiate a peaceful future with close economic and cultural ties. (WaPo)

He became increasingly outspoken against the Oslo process, and led massive demonstrations calling for the leadership to refocus national attention on the basic objective of ending the occupation, rather than on the empty vehicle of peace talks with an occupier that did not intend to leave. Barghouti’s scepticism over the Oslo Accords and over the sincerity of Israel’s commitment to a negotiated settlement resonated strongly with a Palestinian public that was already associating the peace process on the ground not with greater freedom and independence, but with more restrictions on movement and more intrusive Israeli occupation than had ever been the case in the pre-Oslo period.

Barghouti’s disenchantment with Oslo was matched by his growing disillusionment with the role of the U.S. in the conflict. He was convinced that the U.S. was too close to Israel to ever be an “honest broker”, and concluded that a permanent solution to the Middle East conflict can be found only if the mediator is changed (in favor of the U.N., Europeans, or Russians).

[W]e have no faith in the United States, the provider of billions of dollars in annual aid to fund Israel’s expansion of illegal colonies, the “fighter of terrorism” that supplies Israel with the F-16s and helicopter gunships used against a defenseless civilian population, the “defender of freedom and the oppressed” that coddles Sharon even as he faces war crimes charges for his responsibility in the 1982 massacre of Palestinian refugees. The role of the world’s only superpower has been reduced to that of a mere spectator with nothing to offer other than a tired refrain of “Stop the violence” while doing nothing to address the root causes of that violence: denial of Palestinian freedom.

Watch as the hapless Gen. Anthony Zinni focuses his efforts on “violence” while Jewish settlers violate international law and even American policy by moving into a new illegal colony in occupied East Jerusalem. We Palestinians are not impressed. (WaPo)

I think our problem is not with the Israelis, but our biggest problem is with the Americans—with you, unfortunately. Do you realize that the Palestinians have more support in the Israeli Knesset than we do in the US Congress?

…The Palestinians are asking themselves—including me—why do the Americans treat us so badly? Why do they always support the Israelis more than even the Israelis themselves? Why are they always accusing the Palestinians of being violent terrorists while ignoring Israel’s brutal occupation? The occupation is the greatest terror of all and the greatest violence in this part of the world. Why are they so aggressive in their policies toward the Palestinians? …I think the Americans should look for their long-term interests in the region and realize that they have many interests greater than Israel. They cannot continue to ignore the Arab nation of more than 300 million people as well as a billion Muslims all over the world for the sake of these 4 million Jews in Israel. Its time for the Americans to start being fair in their policies toward the Palestinians. (Media Monitors)


Marwan barghouti4 As the Oslo period dissolved into violence, Barghouti was an early advocate of a more militant approach to Israel. “We tried seven years of intifada without negotiations, then seven years of negotiations without intifada. Perhaps it is time to try both simultaneously,” he said in November 2000. As the second intifada erupted, the Palestinian factions (both nationalist and Islamist) established two steering committees, one for Gaza and one for the West Bank, which met weekly to set the times and locations of demonstrations for the next day. Barghouti headed the West Bank steering committee, and personally became a highly-visible figure at demonstrations, funerals and in the media, rallying support for Fatah and calling on Palestinians to escalate the unrest in order to demonstrate that Israel would not enjoy security while it maintained its occupation.

Oslo died with Rabin. How would you feel if on every hill in territory that belongs to you a new settlement would spring up? If your best friends, with whom you fought shoulder to shoulder, continue to rot in jail? I reached a simple conclusion. You don’t want to end the occupation and you don’t want to stop the settlements, so the only way to convince you is by force. This is the Intifada of peace. I’m serious. This Intifada will lead to peace in the end. We need to escalate the conflict. It will be hard. Many of us will be killed, but there is no choice. Every one of us is willing to sacrifice himself. We have decided that Sharon will not bring you security, and we have succeeded. It’s been 274 days since he was elected, and what has happened? Is there security? No. Nothing will help. Only a just agreement, the 1967 borders, a sovereign state, Jerusalem and a solution to the refugee problem. This is the formula and there is no other, and no one has the right to give up on it. (Maariv)

On the escalation of the intifada, as in decentralisation of political power and disillusionment with Oslo, Barghouti was more in line with Palestinian popular opinion than more established members of the Palestinian leadership who argued for de-escalation and a return to negotiations. He told al-Jazeera on 17 October 2000: “This intifada has laid down a new rule: Let those who want to negotiate do so, but the Palestinian people will continue their struggle… We will no longer be captives of the negotiating table.” The following November, he vehemently rejected (French & Israeli TV) as naïve the position of those PA leaders – naming specifically Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] and Saeb Erekat – who argued that Israeli occupation would be ended by negotiation alone.

As the most prominent member of the PA to public endorse the Palestinians’ right of violent resistance as long as occupation, Barghouti became to some extent the personification of the second intifada in public perception on both sides of the Green Line. As the first year of the intifada progessed the Israeli authorities gradually came to accuse him of being one of the chief instigators of attacks on Israelis, and claimed that he was the founder of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a Fatah-affiliated militant organisation that carried out attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, and (from 14 Jan 2002) suicide attacks on civilians inside Israel, and was apparently founded as a means of reasserting Fatah’s claim to lead the resistance, which was becoming undermined by the Islamist movements that pioneered the use of suicide bombings.

Barghouti denied founding the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and insisted he was a political leader, not involved in military activities. He criticised the use of suicide bombings as “not correct”, but expressed his support for “any action against the Israeli occupation”, specifying that by “the Israeli occupation” he meant soldiers and settlers in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem. He could also be ambiguous on the legitimacy of attacks inside Israel proper, which he did not necessarily condone, but said he “understood”, e.g. telling Gideon Levy in Nov 2001:

I would really like all the organizations to concentrate on the territories. But I understand why they carry out actions inside Israel. Why should you feel secure in Tel Aviv when we don’t feel secure in Ramallah or Bethlehem? More than 80 percent of those killed were killed in Area A. For me, Ramallah and Tel Aviv are now Area A. The same. If you want security in Tel Aviv, give security to Ramallah… Why should the Israelis have the right to fire shells and send in 15 tanks, while if a Palestinian goes into Israel, it’s a big deal?


Marwan barghouti5 Barghouti narrowly survived an Israeli missile strike on a convoy in which he was travelling through Ramallah on 4 August 2001. The IDF maintained that the attack was aimed at Muhanad Abu Halaweh, a member of Arafat’s Presidential guard, who was riding in a different car, and was not an attempt on Barghouti’s life; although Israel’s Deputy Minister for Internal Security Gideon Erza made clear his government’s view of Barghouti, stating that: “He amply deserves to die … , for he is very much to blame for the attacks against Israel”.

Following the attack on his convoy, Barghouti went underground. A warrant for his arrest was issued on 23 September 2001 accusing him of membership in a “banned organisation” and of organizing attacks and conspiracy to murder. He was arrested (left) seven months later on 15 April 2002, at the house of Fatah official Ziad Abu Ain in northern Ramallah. The Israeli government announced on 11 July that he would be tried in a civilian court, on charges of financing or instigating 37 attacks which had killed 26 people. Upon arrest, and through his subsequent trial, Barghouti’s ratings in opinion polls soared, putting him in second place only to Arafat in terms of popularity among Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

Barghouti contended that the Israeli authorities had no legal authority to arrest him (citing the Oslo II agreement of September 1995 which gave PLC members Parliamentary immunity from arrest by Israel), and no legal right to try him in Israel (citing the 49th Article of the 4th Geneva Convention which prohibits the transfer of a protected individual or individuals from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power). He insisted from the outset that his was a show trial whose result was a foregone conclusion, held at the behest of Israeli political leaders who wanted to criminalize and blame the Palestinians (and ultimately PA President Arafat) for “terrorism”, while ignoring their own 36-year-old policies of occupation and illegal settlement that underlay the violence in the first place.

My show trial says more about the sorry state of Israeli morality than it does about me. I pity the state of Israel – the Middle East’s “only democracy” stooping to fabricating charges in a show trial aimed not at truth and justice but rather to appease the Israeli masses who refuse to see any connection between their own brutal policies and the cycle of violence Israelis and Palestinians are now experiencing. Like President Arafat, I have become a scapegoat – my trial simply a public relations event by a morally bankrupt and vision-less Israeli leadership desperate to cover up its own inadequacies. And I pity the Israeli people, lied to and misled by a Prime Minister promising peace and security and who has failed miserably in delivering either.

I categorically reject the authority of this criminal court of occupation and I will not dignify the ludicrous claims against me by responding to them. If my trial were truly a search for truth and justice, it would be Sharon and the Israeli army behind bars – it would be the criminals of occupation who have perpetrated war crimes against the men, women and children of Palestine over decades, who continue to violate UN Resolutions and the 4th Geneva Convention with impunity.

–  It is not I who is on trial in Israel; 3 Oct 2002.

We have been suffering under your sinister military occupation for over 36 years during which you killed us, tortured us, destroyed our homes and usurped our land. You made our life an enduring hell. We have an inherent moral and legal right to resist your occupation of our country. If you were in our shoes, you most certainly would do the same as we are doing. You would resist.

–  Denouncing a show trial; Al-Ahram Weekly, 2-8 Oct, 2003.

So from the beginning of his trial on 5 September 2002, Barghouti refused to recognise the authority of the court to try him, dismissed his defence counsel, and declined to plead on or contest the charges against him. Instead he issued his own 54-count indictment, charging the the state of Israel with gross human rights violations on behalf of the Palestinian people, including violations of numerous UN resolutions, and took every opportunity to turn his trial into a trial of Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Ultimately, Barghouti was convicted on 22 May 2004 of the murder of five civilians in three shooting attacks (at Givat Ze’ev in January 2002, at Ma’aleh Adumim in June 2002, and at the Sea Food Market restaurant in Tel Aviv in March 2002). He was also convicted on one count of attempted murder for a failed car bombing at a Jerusalem mall and on a separate count of belonging to a ”banned organisation”, i.e. the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. He was acquitted on the remaining 33 charges against him, including 21 counts of murder. Ha’aretz legal analyst Moshe Gorali concluded: “In its ruling, the court sent a message to the authorities — next time, bring us the murderers or their dispatchers, not their leader”.

The panel of three judges that convicted Barghouti ruled that although he did not have full control over the local leaders of the Brigades and often did not know of attacks beforehand, he did have “significant influence” over the Brigades. It also reported that “the defendant most of the time did not have direct contact with the field operatives who carried out the attacks”, but that he disbursed funds to close associates who themselves supplied funding and arms to the field units. Most importantly, the panel claimed that it was within Barghouti’s power to instruct the local Brigades to stop or restart attacks, and that his orders to restart attacks were sometimes “based on instructions” from President Arafat, who “would never give explicit instructions for attacks but he let it be known when the timing was right”.

Barghouti was sentenced on 6 June 2004 to five consecutive life terms for the murders of Yula Hen, Georgios Tsibouktzakis, Yosef Havi, Elyahu Dahan and Selim Barichat, plus twenty years for the failed car bombing of the Malcha Mall and twenty years for membership of a banned organisation. In keeping with his refusal to recognise the court, Barghouti declined to appeal his conviction and sentence, and declared that the time he would serve would not anyway be decided by the judicial system but by the political exigencies of the Israeli government.

As Barghouti’s trial drew to a close, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (the international organization of Parliaments of sovereign States) published a legal assessment of the proceedings, based on – among other things – a review of the case notes, and interviews with the members of the prosecution and defence teams, and with the representatives of international NGOs who served as observers at the trial. The IPU reported that:

According to the case papers, from Mr. Barghouti’s arrest on 15 April 2002 to the trial itself, the Israeli authorities and the prosecution had tried to turn it into a media event, a symbol, putting on trial one of the men who epitomise the Intifada, and presenting him as a terrorist.

It found that “from the beginning of the investigations until the final day of the trial, the prosecution put almost as much effort into staging a media event as it did into working on the legal aspects”, and that the demands of staging the media event had taken precedence over Barghouti’s legal rights as a defendant. The report concluded that:

The Israeli authorities are right to point out that their country is up against blind terrorism posing serious security problems that they have to address. This report is not the right place to discuss the origins of this terrorism, or ways of putting an end to it, but it does illustrate that the methods chosen to deal with it have been inconsistent with the rule of law, and sight has been lost of such equally essential principles as the absolute priority that must under all circumstances be given to respect for the physical integrity of prisoners.

The numerous breaches of international law recalled in this report make it impossible to conclude that Mr. Barghouti was given a fair trial.

Most of the persons contacted are convinced that Mr. Barghouti will receive a severe sentence, but all are equally convinced that the verdict will have no legitimacy because it will have been dictated far more by intense media pressure and political interests than by any rigorous application of procedures respecting the integrity of the defendant and his right of defence.

The Barghouti case has very clearly demonstrated that, far from bringing security, the breaches of international law have, above all, undermined the authority of Israeli justice by casting discredit on its conduct of investigations and the procedures used.

The trial of Mr. Marwan Barghouti; Simon Foreman for the IPU, Apr 2004.


Barghouti’s influence on PA politics has if anything increased with his arrest and imprisonment. In the winter of 2003, his support for Mahmoud Abbas and Muhammad Dahlan was crucial in persuading Arafat to relinquish some of the authority of the PA Presidency to an empowered Prime Minister, a post which Abbas himself filled when it was formally created in Feb 2004. (Abbas succeeded after intensive wrangling with Arafat in installing Dahlan in the key security role of Interior Minister in his new Cabinet). Barghouti was also instrumental in bringing about the comprehensive hudna (ceasefire) of July 2004 which was a top priority of the Abbas/Dahlan government, persuading the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad leadership-in-exile to bring their movements into the ceasefire, which Abbas himself had been unable to do.

Barghouti also played a major role in drafting – and was the Fatah signatory to – the Prisoners Document of 11 May 2006, which set out a common platform for all the major Palestinian factions, and which was widely viewed as a possible basis for conciliation between Hamas and Fatah as they struggled in the aftermath of the Jan 2006 PLC elections to establish a unity government capable of overcoming the U.S.-led blockade of the Hamas government. (It also, as Barghouthi has emphasized, represented the first time that all major Palestinian factions – including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad – had approved a document calling for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders). He criticized Hamas’ seizure of Fatah-dominated PA security assets in the Gaza Strip in June 2007 as a “stab in the back” that undermined the Palestinian cause, but also blamed Fatah’s entrenched leadership for the fragile state of the party in Gaza, and opposed any attempt to forcibly resolve the situation by to blockading or trying to disarm Hamas. He envisages conciliation between the Palestinian nationalist and Islamist movements coming about through the admission of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to membership in a reformed and reinvigorated PLO:

[T]he Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) remains the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and the highest political reference. The fact that the PLO now finds itself beleaguered with stagnation and erosion, and needs radical and comprehensive reform, does not invalidate this legitimacy. I hope that both Hamas and Islamic Jihad will join the organization, for they have an important role to play in the Palestinian arena. I am hoping mechanisms can be found for a prompt rebuilding and restructuring of the PLO institutions, and I am looking forward to the convening of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) with its new frameworks, in order to preserve the national unity within the organization. I believe that according to the interim constitution, the PA powers are distributed between the elected president and the elected government, and Hamas has to take these facts very seriously into consideration…

The fact is that Fateh was able to reconcile between the political, the diplomatic, the negotiations, and the control of the PA, on the one hand, and resistance and the intifada, on the other, bolstered by international legitimacy as well as laws and resolutions pertaining to Palestine. Will Hamas be capable of doing the same? The immediate future will tell. In my view, Hamas must hold on to the resistance option and reject free concessions, although it is going to find great difficulty combining between the PA and resistance. (Source)

Barghouti’s arrest and trial turned him into a well-known and popular figure throughout the Occupied Territories, second only in popularity to President Arafat, and increasingly seen as his heir apparent. Upon Arafat’s death on 11 November 2004, Barghouti called upon Fatah to select its candidate for the PA Presidential election through a process of democratic party primaries. When the traditionally conservative Fatah Central Committee (the organisation’s most senior body) instead nominated Mahmoud Abbas as the Fatah candidate, there was some dissent in the West Bank Higher Committee (which Barghouti heads) about this manner of selecting a candidate, and Barghouti announced on 25 November 2004 that he would run against Abbas for the Presidency, as an independent.

Marwan barghouti6 Barghouti’s decision to run against the Fatah candidate was widely criticized within the movement: the Fatah Revolutionary Council overwhelmingly endorsed the nomination of Mahmoud Abbas, and party chairman Faruq al-Qaddumi warned that Barghouti would be expelled from Fatah if he did not withdraw his candidacy. Even members of the reformist current, whom Barghouti could normally have counted among his supporters, were critical that Barghouti’s move would split the party at a time when unity to ensure a smooth transition of power was of paramount importance. His PLC colleague Hatem Abdel Qader suggested that it would be more appropriate for Barghouti to build majority support in the higher elected bodies within Fatah, rather than leap-frogging direct to the Presidency, and West Bank al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades leaders Mohammed Dandan and Zakariya Zubeidi expressed the dominant view among Fatah militants that this was the wrong time for a challenge to the party leadership:

“We are against the candidacy of Marwan because it is contrary to the decision of the central committee of Fatah, which unanimously chose [Mahmoud Abbas],” said Zakariya Zubeidi, Jenin leader of the al-Aksa Brigades. “We will not let anybody, no matter who, create any division or split in the Fatah movement.” (Source).

Facing overwhelming support for Mahmoud Abbas’ candidacy within Fatah, Barghouti withdrew from the Presidential race on 12 December 2004, and urged all party members to support Abbas (who would win the Presidency on 9 Jan 2005, with 62% of the vote).

(It is possible that Barghouti had never intended to follow through on his 2005 Presidential run, and that his threatened candidacy served a different purpose altogether. Barghouti himself said that the reason for his running in the first place was “to maintain the path of the intifada and the resistance and to defend it and protect it from being labelled as terrorism”. As Mahmoud Abbas was widely believed to be against armed intifada and in favour of a return to an approach of negotiations alone, Barghouti probably chose that platform specifically as a warning to Abbas not to try to renounce – in the event of his winning the Presidency – the option for armed resistance that Barghouti and many of his younger supporters in Fatah advocated. Additionally, one of the incentives to withdraw that Barghouthi seems to have received from Abbas and the Fatah party leadership was an assurance that the long-overdue Fatah Convention would be held in August 2005, when elections would be held for an expanded Central Committee and Revolutionary Council, which would finally bring the under-represented local Fatah activists into senior positions in the movement. Having warned Mahmoud Abbas that he should not base his Presidency on ending the intifada, and that the younger generation of Fatah activists would not continue to be ignored in the highest ranks of the party, Barghouti may have felt that his candidacy had served its purpose, and therefore withdrawn. Though in the event the Fatah 6th Convention planned for 4 August 2005 did not take place).

Barghouti threatened again to split Fatah over the issue of inertia within the party’s senior institutions, during the run-up to the Palestinian PLC elections of 25 January 2006. Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to hold primary elections for the Fatah list of parliamentary candidates and, in the regions where primary voting was completed before the process was halted due to factional violence (i.e. Jericho, Ramallah, Nablus, Bethlehem, Jenin and Tubas) Barghouti and local activists like him swept the board at the expense of the “Tunisians”. (Barghouti himself received some 34,000 votes out of the 40,000 eligible Fatah voters in his Ramallah District). When the Central Committee nevertheless drew up a Fatah party list favoring members of the Old Guard over the primary winners, Barghouti announced on 14 December 2005 that he would not run on the Fatah list, but would instead represent a new party, al-Mustaqbal (The Future), whose candidate list was made up of younger generation Fatah activists (including Dahlan, Rajoub and Fares) but excluded all the members of the Central Committee. A formal split was averted when Abbas prepared a compromise list of Fatah candidates, headed by Barghouti, who agreed to rejoin a unified list on 28 December 2005; but the incident publically illustrated Fatah’s deep divisions and internal disunity less than a month before polling day.

(N.B. Although Barghouti’s revolt was aimed at the Fatah Old Guard, of which Mahmoud Abbas is the senior member, it was not directly aimed at Abbas himself. Abbas was an ally of the Young Guard in opposing the centralisation of power in the hands of President Arafat, and maintains a close relationship with them. He is believed to favor their elevation within Fatah, but to lack the clout to overcome opposition in the Central Committee).


Barghouthi’s ability to ever translate his popularity into political leadership of the Palestinian Authority probably depends on his early release from his consecutive life sentences, presumably as part of one of Israel’s periodic prisoner exchanges with its Arab neighbours (though Barghouti stated emphatically in Oct 2007 that he will run for the PA Presidency – and win – as soon as Abu Mazen steps down, even if he has to run, and govern,  from prison). Israel was reported to have considered his release in return for information about missing IAF navigator Ron Arad in the 2003 prisoner exchange with Hizbullah, and ever since Barghouthi’s conviction there has been periodic speculation about his release in exchange for Israeli spies Azzam Azzam (imprisoned in Egypt) or Jonathan Pollard (in the U.S.).  An Israeli newspaper, Maariv, reported in September 2007 that a majority in Olmert’s cabinet favored releasing Barghouti in a deal for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit (in Gaza).

Officially, Israeli President Katsav insisted that Barghouthi’s imprisonment is a judicial affair, and that there is no possibility of his release for political reasons. In practice, however, it is apparent that Israel is not closing the door on the possibility of his release at a suitable moment, and is in some ways grooming him as a possible future leader by enabling him to exert and enhance his political influence from his prison cell. Without the facilitation of the Israeli authorities, it is not likely that Barghouthi would have been able for example to mediate the hudna of 2003 (which involved his personal contact with the Palestinian Islamist leadership in Damascus), or to liaise with other imprisoned faction leaders to negotiate the terms of the Prisoners’ Document, nor would he have had the direct access to the Palestinian TV audience that he received in the days leading up to the 2006 PLC elections, when the faltering Fatah vote was in need of a boost.

The Israeli authorities might have presented Barghouthi at his trial as the personification of Palestinian terrorism but, as a nationalist who unequivocally accepts the two-state solution and unambiguously recognises Israel within its 1967 borders, Israelis of both Right and Left might well find his leadership of the Palestinians preferable to the strengthening Islamist alternative. As the current Israeli Justice Minister, Meir Sheetrit, remarked: when it comes to the question of pardoning Barghouti, one can “never say never”.


Other biographical information available online:

Interviews available online:

  •  “You’ll Miss Me Yet”: Interview with Ben Caspit; Ma’ariv, 9 Nov 2001.
  • Death Isn’t A Big Deal Anymore: Interview with Gideon Levy; Ha’aretz, 12 Nov 2001.
  • Israel’s Enemy Number One; Al-Ahram Weekly,18-24 April 2002.
  • Interview With Marwan Barghouti; Media Monitors, 31 July 2002.
  • “Abbas, hai dodici mesi per cacciare i corrotti” (“Abbas has twelve months to get rid of the corrupt”); Corriere della Sera, 29 April 2005. (And in English translation).
  • Barghouti’s plan for ’67 borders; Ynet summary of an interview with Corriere della Sera; 24 May 2006.
  • The Prisoners’ Document: A Palestinian View; Bitterlemons, 19 June 2006.
  • Talking with Marwan Barghouthi; Palestine-Israel Journal, Autumn 2006.
  • An Interview with Marwan Barghouti; Yedioth Ahronoth, via IMEU, 5 Oct 2007.


  • Want Security? End the Occupation; Marwan Barghouti op-ed, Washington Post (16 January 2002).
  • It is not I who is on trial in Israel; Marwan Barghouti statement, 3 October 2002.
  • Partners in the field, partners in the Parliament; Message to the first session of the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council, 18 February 2006.

Commentary on Barghouti’s trial: 

  • Trial By Fury; (Interview with Barghouti’s lawyer, Jawad Boulus); Ha’aretz, 18 April 2002.
  • Palestine’s partisans; by Paul Foot, The Guardian, 21 August 2002.
  • Barghouti’s lawyer says Tanzim chief will not enter plea in court; Daniel Sobelman and Zvi Harel, Ha’aretz, 5 September 2002.
  • Uproar in courtroom as Barghouti’s trial opens; by Assaf Bergerfreund, Ha’aretz, 6 September 2002.
  • Barghouti indicts Israel at trial; Associated Press, 3 October 2002.
  • A trying trial for the state; by Moshe Goraldi, Ha’aretz, 4 October 2002.
  • Political show trial for Marwan Barghouti; by William Hughes, Counterpunch, 4 October 2002.
  • What a Show!; by Uri Avnery, Ha’aretz, 5 October 2002.
  • Jailed colleagues refuse to testify against Barghouti; by Chris McGreal, The Guardian, 7 April 2003.
  • Resolution of the Governing Council of the IPU on the trial of Marwan Barghouti; The Inter-Parliamentary Union, Geneva, 3 Oct 2003.
  • Barghouti found guilty of five murders; by Assaf Bergerfreund, Ha’aretz, 23 May 2004.
  • Barghouti convicted in deaths of five people; by Roni Singer, Ha’aretz, 23 May 2004.
  • A Mandela in the making?; by Jonathan Cook, al-Ahram Weekly, 27 May-2 June 2004.
  • Arafat’s likely successor gets five life terms, by Chris McGreal; The Guardian, 7 June 2004.
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