David Bedein

Context of a hunger strike: Convicts, not prisoners

The media around the world are covering the hunger strike conducted by  Arabs in Israeli jails, many of whom were convicted in a court of law for murder or attempted murder.

In the communications that it releases, it is the responsibility of the government of Israel to emphasize that many of these “strikers” who sit in jail are indeed convicts who serve life sentences for murder and/or attempted murder,  and to stop using terms like “prisoners” or “security prisoners” or “activists” to characterize them.

After all, Israel holds no POW’s.

The difference in one word makes all the difference.

Expressions of life and death derive from the language that you use, to paraphrase the adage,  חיים ומוות ביד הלשון.

In the training manuals funded in 2002 by US AID and run by PASSIA,  the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, those  freed in exchanges for Israeli soldiers are advised to initiate interviews with journalists by referring to themselves as “activists” who became “political prisoners”, and to mention these terms repeatedly, so that the news outlet will incorporate sympathetic terminology to describe someone convicted of murder or attempted murder as someone other than who he actually is.

Given that approach, the government of Israel has a responsibility to provide the media and the public at large with the full criminal record of any convict who conducts interviews or demonstrations under the guise of “freedom fighters” . 

The government of Israel can easily access and provide the names of the bereaved parents, widows, widowers, siblings or orphans who suffer and who continue to suffer from the actions of the killer in question. 

 A case in point:

Most recently, a California Rabbi wrote a piece in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, where he compared the jailed Marwan Barghouti to Nelson Mandela, the South African leader who also served a long jail sentence.

The Rabbi related that he had fond memories of meeting Barghouti and recalled the soft tone of his voice, and was impressed that this was a man of moderation.

Having studied criminology, lesson number one in the study of criminal behavior is that when the perpetrator of a crime does not think that he has done any wrong, he will often speak in a moderate, self assured fashion.

I covered the Barghouti court proceedings in the press gallery, a few feet away from Marwan Barghouti when he was brought to trial, as he stood up firmly and declared how proud he was for ordering these acts of murder, which he proclaimed were  acts of freedom for Palestine.

Barghouti was calm and  composed, as he smiled and smirked at the families of those whom he murdered when the court issued the verdict; 13 convictions of first degree murder in five terror attacks that Barghouti orchestrated.

Indeed, the Marwan Barghouti whom the California Rabbi compared to Nelson Mandela was convicted for the murders of: Salim Barakat, 33, from the Druze village of Yarka in the Galilee, who survived by his wife, daughter, parents and seven brothers and sisters; Eli Dahan, 53, of Lod, who is survived by his mother Sarah, wife, Ilana, two daughters, two sons and three grandchildren; Yosef Habi, 52, of Herzliya, who is survived by his wife, son and daughter; Father Georgios Tsibouktzakis,34, aGreek Orthodox monk from St. George’s Monastery in Wadi Kelt near Jericho, and Yoela Chen, 45, of Givat Ze’ev, who is survived by her husband and two children.

Nor were  these Barghouti’s only victims. At his trial, people who were maimed as a result of Barghouti-sponsored attacks appeared as witnesses to the pain he caused them — pain they will experience for the rest of their lives.

Chicagoan Alan Bauer and his then 7-year-old son Jonathan were among those witnesses. A Barghouti-funded bomber blew himself up on King George Street in Jerusalem. three feet away from them on March 21, 2002. Two arteries in Bauer’s arm were severed. A screw went all the way through little Jonathan’s head. That injury has affected every aspect of Jonathan’s growth and development into a  young man.

That is only part of  Marwan’s public record.

On January 22, 1995, after Hamas massacred 19 Israelis at a bus stop in Beit Lid — a village near the coastal city of Netanya, located within the 1967 lines — Barghouti declared on the Saudi-owned MBC television network that “we cannot condemn such an attack, since this is an area that we have not yet liberated.” The VHS video of that Barghouti interview sits on a shelf in my office.

Barghouti, at the outbreak of the second intifada uprising in 2000, became the head of a joint coordinating body of all armed Palestinian factions — including Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, all three of which are listed by the American government as terrorist groups.

And the comparison to Mandela?

Throughout the years of Mandela’s successful fight against the Apartheid regime, Mandela never ever ordered the murder of anyone.

I wrote to the California Rabbi to question his comparison of  legendary fighter for freedom to someone convicted of multiple first degree murders. and asked if he would issue a private and public apology to Mr. Mandela.

After I respectfully wrote this to the Rabbi, the Rabbi forwarded a public and private apology to Mr. Nelson Mandela, who is aging but alive and well in South Africa

Such a response to the glorification of a convict who prides himself in carrying out wanton acts of murder should be the response of the government of Israel.

It begins with the responsibility of the communicators of government of Israel, to remind the world as to why many of these “hunger strikers” are in jail. The government of    Israel bears a responsibility to publicize their criminal records, to identify their victims, and not to sanitize them with the amorphous term of “security prisoners.”


About the Author
David Bedein, who grew up in Philadelphia and moved to Israel in 1970 at the age of 20, is an MSW community organizer by profession and an expereinced investigative journalist. In 1987 he established the Israel Resource News Agency, with offices at the Beit Agron Int’l Press Center in Jerusalem, where he also serves as Director of the Center for Near East Policy Research. In 1991, Bedein was the special CNN middle east radio correspondent. Since 2001, Bedein has contributed features to the newspaper Makor Rishon. In 2006, Bedein became the foreign correspondent for the Philadelphia Bulletin, writing 1,062 articles until the newspaper ceased operation in 2010. He is the author of " The Genesis of the Palestinian Authority" and "ROADBLOCK TO PEACE- How the UN Perpetuates the Arab-Israeli Conflict: UNRWA policies reconsidered"and the director and producer of the numerous short films about UNRWA policy which can be located at: