The New Mandela
Marwan Barghouti and the Third Intifada
By Uri Avnery
Counterpunch Weekend Edition
Mar 30-Apr 01, 2012
Marwan Barghouti has spoken up. After a long silence,
he has sent a message from prison.
In Israeli ears, this message does not sound pleasant.
But for Palestinians, and for Arabs in general, it
His message may well become the new program of the
Palestinian liberation movement.
I FIRST met Marwan in the heyday of post-Oslo optimism.
He was emerging as a leader of the new Palestinian
generation, the home-grown young activists, men and
women, who had matured in the first Intifada.
He is a man of small physical stature and large
personality. When I met him, he was already the leader
of Tanzim ("organization"), the youth group of the
The topic of our conversations then was the
organization of demonstrations and other non-violent
actions, based on close cooperation between the
Palestinians and Israeli peace groups. The aim was
peace between Israel and a new State of Palestine.
When the Oslo process died with the assassinations of
Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Marwan and his
organization became targets. Successive Israeli leaders
- Binyamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon -
decided to put an end to the two-state agenda. In the
brutal "Defensive Shield operation (launched by Defense
Minister Shaul Mofaz, the new leader of the Kadima
Party) the Palestinian Authority was attacked, its
services destroyed and many of its activists arrested.
Marwan Barghouti was put on trial. It was alleged that,
as the leader of Tanzim, he was responsible for several
"terrorist" attacks in Israel. His trial was a mockery,
resembling a Roman gladiatorial arena more than a
judicial process. The hall was packed with howling
rightists, presenting themselves as "victims of
terrorism". Members of Gush Shalom protested against
the trial inside the court building but we were not
allowed anywhere near the accused.
Marwan was sentenced to five life sentences. The
picture of him raising his shackled hands above his
head has become a Palestinian national icon. When I
visited his family in Ramallah, it was hanging in the
IN PRISON, Marwan Barghouti was immediately recognized
as the leader of all Fatah prisoners. He is respected
by Hamas activists as well. Together, the imprisoned
leaders of Fatah and Hamas published several statements
calling for Palestinian unity and reconciliation. These
were widely distributed outside and received with
admiration and respect.
(Members of the extended Barghouti family, by the way,
play a major role in Palestinian affairs across the
entire spectrum from moderate to extremist. One of them
is Mustapha Barghouti, a doctor who heads a moderate
Palestinian party with many connections abroad, whom I
regularly meet at demonstrations in Bilin and
elsewhere. I once joked that we always cry when we see
each other - from tear gas. The family has its roots in
a group of villages north of Jerusalem.)
NOWADAYS, MARWAN Barghouti is considered the
outstanding candidate for leader of Fatah and president
of the Palestinian Authority after Mahmoud Abbas. He is
one of the very few personalities around whom all
Palestinians, Fatah as well as Hamas, can unite.
After the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit,
when the prisoner exchange was discussed, Hamas put
Marwan Barghouti on top of the list of Palestinian
prisoners whose release it demanded. This was a very
unusual gesture, since Marwan belonged to the rival -
and reviled - faction.
The Israeli government struck Marwan from the list
right away, and remained adamant. When Shalit was
finally released, Marwan stayed in prison. Obviously he
was considered more dangerous than hundreds of Hamas
"terrorists" with "blood on their hands".
Cynics would say: because he wants peace. Because he
sticks to the two-state solution. Because he can unify
the Palestinian people for that purpose. All good
reasons for a Netanyahu to keep him behind bars.
SO WHAT did Marwan tell his people this week?
Clearly, his attitude has hardened. So, one must
assume, has the attitude of the Palestinian people at
He calls for a Third Intifada, a non-violent mass
uprising in the spirit of the Arab Spring.
His manifesto is a clear rejection of the policy of
Mahmoud Abbas, who maintains limited but all-important
cooperation with the Israeli occupation authorities.
Marwan calls for a total rupture of all forms of
cooperation, whether economic, military or other.
A focal point of this cooperation is the day-to-day
collaboration of the American-trained Palestinian
security services with the Israeli occupation forces.
This arrangement has effectively stopped violent
Palestinian attacks in the occupied territories and in
Israel proper. It guarantees, In practice, the security
of the growing Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Marwan also calls for a total boycott of Israel,
Israeli institutions and products in the Palestinian
territories and throughout the world. Israeli products
should disappear from West Bank shops, Palestinian
products should be promoted.
At the same time, Marwan advocates an official end to
the charade called "peace negotiations". This term, by
the way, is never heard anymore in Israel. First it was
replaced with "peace process", then "political
process", and lately "the political matter". The simple
word "peace" has become taboo among rightists and most
"leftists" alike. It's political poison.
Marwan proposes to make the absence of peace
negotiations official. No more international talk about
"reviving the peace process", no more rushing around of
ridiculous people like Tony Blair, no more hollow
announcements by Hillary Clinton and Catherine Ashton,
no more empty declarations of the "Quartet". Since the
Israeli government clearly has abandoned the two-state
solution - which it never really accepted in the first
place - keeping up the pretense just harms the
Instead of this hypocrisy, Marwan proposes to renew the
battle in the UN. First, apply again to the Security
Council for the acceptance of Palestine as a member
state, challenging the US to use its solitary veto
openly against practically the whole world. After the
expected rejection of the Palestinian request by the
Council as a result of the veto, request a decision by
the General Assembly, where the vast majority would
vote in favor. Though this would not be binding, it
would demonstrate that the freedom of Palestine enjoys
the overwhelming support of the family of nations, and
isolate Israel (and the US) even more.
Parallel to this course of action, Marwan insists on
Palestinian unity, using his considerable moral force
to put pressure on both Fatah and Hamas.
TO SUMMARIZE, Marwan Barghouti has given up all hope of
achieving Palestinian freedom through cooperation with
Israel, or even Israeli opposition forces. The Israeli
peace movement is not mentioned anymore.
"Normalization" has become a dirty word.
These ideas are not new, but coming from the No. 1
Palestinian prisoner, the foremost candidate for the
succession of Mahmoud Abbas, the hero of the
Palestinian masses, it means a turn to a more militant
course, both in substance and in tone.
Marwan remains peace oriented - as he made clear when,
in a rare recent appearance in court, he called out to
the Israeli journalists that he continues to support
the two-state solution. He also remains committed to
non-violent action, having come to the conclusion that
the violent attacks of yesteryear harmed the
Palestinian cause instead of furthering it.
He wants to call a halt to the gradual and unwilling
slide of the Palestinian Authority into a Vichy-like
collaboration, while the expansion of the Israeli
"settlement enterprise" goes on undisturbed.
NOT BY accident did Marwan publish his manifesto on the
eve of "Land Day", the world-wide day of protest
against the occupation.
"Land Day" is the anniversary of an event that took
place in 1976 to protest against the decision of the
Israeli government to expropriate huge tracts of Arab-
owned land in Galilee and other parts of Israel. The
Israeli army and police fired on the protesters,
killing six of them. (The day after, two of my friends
and I laid wreaths on the graves of the victims, an act
that earned me an outbreak of hatred and vilification I
have seldom experienced.)
Land day was a turning point for Israel's Arab
citizens, and later became a symbol for Arabs
everywhere. This year, the Netanyahu government
threatened to shoot anybody who even approaches our
borders. It may well be a harbinger for the Third
Intifada heralded by Marwan.
For some time now, the world has lost much of its
interest in Palestine. Everything looks quiet.
Netanyahu has succeeded in deflecting world attention
from Palestine to Iran. But in this country, nothing is
ever static. While it seems that nothing is happening,
settlements are growing incessantly, and so is the deep
resentment of the Palestinians who see this happening
before their eyes.
Marwan Barghouti's manifesto expresses the near-
unanimous feelings of the Palestinians in the West Bank
and elsewhere. Like Nelson Mandela in apartheid South
Africa, the man in prison may well be more important
than the leaders outside.
URI AVNERY is an Israeli writer and peace activist with
Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch's book
The Politics of Anti-Semitism.
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