Fiamma Nirenstein
Fiamma Nirenstein

The New York Times transforms the terrorist into a future leader

Marwan Barghouti is a convicted terrorist and murderer. In 2004, after the Second Intifada, an Israeli court sentenced him to five life terms for his murders and forty years for attempted murder. Despite this fact, The New York Times referred to him solely as a “Palestinian leader and parliamentarian” when it published on Sunday his sugarcoated article on the current mass hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners incarcerated in Israeli jails.

The major American newspaper failed to mention his real career, that of a serial murderer and a professional terrorist. Strange? Not at all in the logic that makes Israel a country where it’s normal to see countless innocent citizens die in terrorist massacres. Netanyahu, referring to the article, said sarcastically, “Calling Barghouti a leader and parliamentarian is like calling Assad a pediatrician.”

The context of the error committed by the major American newspaper revolves around a hunger strike of about 1,000 Palestinian prisoners among the more than 6000 currently behind bars. The demands are characteristic of all movements that paint the typical image of the inmate who wants better conditions while incarcerated and asserts his right for greater humanity by the correctional institution, which includes the need for more family visits and phone calls and greater access to all sources of information and culture.

However, the backdrop has a very particular shade, one that propels Barghouti into a position of Palestinian general leadership: the former leader of Tanzim and the founder of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Fatah terror group, Barghouti effectively took orders from Yasser Arafat during the Second Intifada, and he was found guilty in 2004 for the crimes he committed for managing one a part of the bloodiest periods of Fatah’s history, marked by suicide terrorist attacks and the slaughter of innocent civilians, which led to almost two thousand deaths. Barghouti was a popular figure in Fatah’s “young guard” (he was born in 1959).

I have interviewed him on several occasions and have found him to be talkative and always smiling, able to handle his popularity alongside Arafat so in negotiations as in preparing terrorist attacks, but populist against the corruption among Palestinian elites.

As a reporter, I interviewed him at his house in Ramallah where chickens wandered about in the courtyard and his men armed to the teeth followed us into the kitchen where one of my interviews took place. He was a sort of kind popular national Neapolitan “camorrista”, actually an experienced killer of many. In prison, one of the most important issues of the Palestinian politics, if you remember that the Palestinians allocate a monthly salary to families of “martyrs” and prisoners, Barghouti has become increasingly important while Abbas has grown more and more unpopular.

Therefore, the Palestinian president excluded him and his friends from positions in which Barghouti thinks they are entitled to within the Central Committee. The game of Barghouti now seems to use the battle in this most sensitive area, precisely that of prisoners, to acquire a very significant share of power, and therefore, to compete with Abu Mazen.

It’s a risky game, because it depends on the results that the strike will be able to achieve from the Israelis who now a day don’t seem very moved by the prisoners’ demands while the hunger strike begins. Barghouti and other prisoners were strategically transferred to another prison and some placed in solitary confinement.

Judging, however, by the New York Times, there will be an international support to the strike, even if Israel has already stated that prison conditions are extremely respectable and meet the standards of international law.

But Barghouti has been quite cunning again: he has chosen the path of national public protest, his favorite, towards obtaining the leadership role that he has always envisioned- And we ought harbor no illusions, it would be another bloody task against the Jews.

Translation by Amy K. Rosenthal

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (April 19, 2017)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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