Marwan Barghouti: Palestine’s Mandela

By Shannon Ebrahim

On Sunday, October 27, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation launched an international campaign from the infamous Robben Island – where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years – for the release of Marwan Barghouti and all Palestinian political prisoners.

The symbolism is powerful. Kathrada launched the “Release Mandela” campaign in 1963, just prior to his own arrest, which saw him also incarcerated on South Africa’s Robben Island for 18 years. Now half a century later, as an 84-year-old veteran, he is launching yet another campaign for an iconic freedom fighter.

Barghouti’s wife, Fadwa, travelled to Robben Island with the Palestinian Minister for Detainees, along with hundreds of special guests, including South African struggle veterans and five Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

Barghouti was the first member of the Palestinian Legislative Council to be arrested by Israel, and is one of the most prominent of the more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners who remain incarcerated in Israeli jails. The European Union and the Inter-Parliamentary Union have called for his release.

Huddled in the back of a fish restaurant in the Gaza Strip in 2001, a few African National Congress (ANC) members of parliament and I sat whispering with Marwan Barghouti. We knew he was number one on Israel’s hit list, but little did we know that within nine months he would be kidnapped by Israeli forces, interrogated and tortured for 100 days, put in solitary confinement for 1,000 days, and, more than 11 years later, become known as “the Palestinian Mandela”.

In an interview Barghouti gave to Al-Monitor in May 2013, he described how the Israelis had kept him in solitary confinement for almost three years in a tiny cell infested with cockroaches and rats. His windowless cell had denied him aeration or direct sunlight, with dirt falling from the ceiling. He was only allowed one hour of exercise a day while handcuffed. He proved unbreakable after three years.

Barghouti’s defiance of the largest military power in the Middle East was inspiring, reminiscent of the fiery determination of the ANC leaders in South Africa twenty years earlier. At the time we met him he was the Secretary General of Fatah, the leader of Fatah’s armed branch Tanzim, and had been the brains behind the first and second intifada. His revolutionary spirit was electric.

He knew very well that sooner or later Mossad would catch up with him, despite his best efforts at being a black pimpernel. In one of a number of attempts to assassinate Barghouti in 2001, the Israeli military ended up killing his bodyguard in a targeted strike. In April 2002, Israeli forces hid in the back of an ambulance and ambushed the house he was staying in, grabbing him. He was later charged for his activities under Tanzim and given five life sentences.

But as with most exceptional freedom fighters elsewhere, his message and persona grew in prison. His popularity has surpassed that of all Palestinian leaders – both in Hamas and Fatah – and he is being hailed by Palestinians as a unifying figure who could lead his people to freedom.

His propensity to unite Fatah and Hamas into one powerful liberation movement insisting on a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders makes him a dangerous threat to Israel’s political establishment. Barghouti’s message is so powerful that Hamas has rallied behind him. When Hamas recently engaged in negotiations on a prisoner exchange with Israel in return for the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, they had put Marwan Barghouti at the top of their list. For Israel, Barghouti’s release was not negotiable.


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 galvanise international public opinion.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is only too well aware of the dangers of such calls. His focus at the United Nations and in private diplomacy on Iran as a nuclear threat has deflected the world’s attention from Palestinian independence, settlement building, and freeing legitimate peace partners.

If Barghouti’s attempt, from prison, to inspire a non-violent protest movement captures the imagination of Palestinians, it could start a significant new chapter in the heretofore tragic history of the Palestinians’ struggle for justice.

Full article at Al Jazeera

This entry was posted in Anti-War & Non-Violence, Human Rights & Justice, War & Terror and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Marwan Barghouti: Palestine’s Mandela

  1. Michael says:

    When and where was he “insisting on a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders”? I missed out on that one – would be very interested to have a reference to such a statement from mr. Barghouti.

  2. Michael says:

    Al Monitor: Does that mean recognizing Israel ?
    Hamad: There is still no change about that. Hamas does not recognize Israel.

    And the deputy foreign minister (hardly a major figure, by the way) adds that that does not mean “a two-state solution”.

    So they will kindly accept a state within the 1967 ceasefire lines, that will include “a solution to the refugee problem” (meaning flooding Israel with millions of Arabs), and reserve the right to pursue the destruction of Israel. Thanks, but no, thanks.

    Why not tell what his “activities under Tanzim” were? That mr. Barghouti, that peace-loving Mandela, was “given” 5 life sentences after he was convicted of 5 counts of murder, including the murder of 3 civilians. Truly an inspiring figure.

    • Keld Bach says:

      No, of course Hamas doesn’t recognise the illegal Jewish state. But by recognising the pre-1967 borders, it would be possible to establish a Palestinian state. Mind you that Israel has never defined its own borders and probably never will until it has stolen all of the Arab land it needs. A Greater Israel has always been the goal of the Zionist movement.

      • Michael says:

        The “1967 borders” are ceasefire lines dating back to 1949. The borders of Israel with Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon are defined and marked, in the cases of Egypt and Jordan according to a peace agreement.
        So you don’t think Jews are allowed to have their own state. Good you make your point of view clear.

        Can you also tell why was a Palestinian state not established prior to 1967, when Gaza, Judea and Samaria were occupied by Egypt and Jordan?

      • Keld Bach says:

        I certainly don’t mind Jews having their own state if they can find some vacant land. But Palestine is Arab land and has been so for centuries, albeit occupied by several imperialist rulers over time. Oriental Jews also have a long history in the Middle East, but the Ashkenazis living in Israel today derive from Russia and Eastern Europe and took over the land by brutal force in 1948. Also known as the Palestinian Catastrophe or Al Nakba.

        Actually, the Jews already had their own state. The Jewish Republic of Birobidjan has existed for more than 80 years and if that’s not enough, I’m sure their close ally, the USA, gladly would spare them some extra land.

  3. Michael says:

    That’s all very kind of you, but in the original post, you’ve presented Marwan Barghouti as a peace-loving Mandela figure, who’s “insisting on a two-state solution”. In fact, mr. Barghouti is a serial killer of innocent people, and you didn’t provide any evidence to his alleged insistance on a two-state solution (to which you are objected yourself). You tried also to present Hamas a mild bunch of reasonalbe guys, who support the mentioned two-state soluiton, and didn’t provide any evidence to that, actually, you provided evidence to the contrary.
    As to your own opinion – you support the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel. The decisions made by the international community (League of Nations and the UN) about the creation of a Jewish state in Mandatory Palestine obviously mean nothing to you.

    • Keld Bach says:

      I wouldn’t call Marwan Barghouti a ‘serial killer’ as the killing of civilians was never his aim. He was the leader of an armed resistance group fighting against the illegal Jewish occupation of Palestine, which is one of the reasons why he’s still so popular. It is perfectly legal according to the Geneva Conventions to defend your land against any armed intruder, which is exactly what he and many other brave Palestinians did. And those ‘crimes’ are hardly comparable to those committed by Jewish terrorist groups like the Irgun and Stern Gang. Or to those heinous crimes committed by the IDF ever since 1948.

      I didn’t try to present Hamas a “mild bunch of reasonalbe guys” – I just provided the link you were asking for. What ever you might read out of that is your own business.

      And I don’t support “the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel” either. How did you come to that conclusion? What I said was that I supported a democratic one-state solution for all (Jews, Christians, Arabs, etc) living on Palestine land. If you still don’t understand what I’m talking about, watch this lecture by Miko Peled.

      And by the way, I have Jewish friends who fully share these views. They left Israel long time ago because they couldn’t stand to live in such an oppressive and racist country.

      • Michael says:

        You said “Hamas has said the same a few times” – as in “insisting on a two-state solution”. The link you provided showed the exact opposite – a Hamas official denying any acceptance of the State of Israel. And mr. Barghouti, the convicted murderer, has never “insisted on a two-state solution” either. So why did you say he did?

      • Keld Bach says:

        Apparently you can’t read. The article I posted clearly said that Barghouti supported a two-state solution:

          His propensity to unite Fatah and Hamas into one powerful liberation movement insisting on a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders makes him a dangerous threat to Israel’s political establishment. Barghouti’s message is so powerful that Hamas has rallied behind him.

        If only you bothered to do a search on the internet, you’d find plenty more examples. Here’s one from 2003:

          “There is one solution: two states for two peoples, or one state for two peoples. Otherwise there will be bloodshed.”

        And the link I provided about Hamas clearly said that they would accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. 1 + 1 makes 2, but apparently not in your book. Whether Hamas will recognise the Jewish state or not, is irrelevant in this context since Israel already exists.

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