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American citizen, translator and student—Mariam Barghouti arrested and detained in West Bank

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To a journalist working in the West Bank, Mariam Barghouti, a 20 year-old university student and translator who was arrested last Friday in Nabi Saleh, is a familiar name. In spite of her age, Mariam is a polished resource. She’s known for her professionalism,  sweetness and infectious smile—she makes me smile and almost seems to have bounce in her step. But as I type this young woman is locked in an Israeli jail cell, missing her exams, for her studies in English and Psychology. Mariam and journalist Abir Kopty were arrested last week while translating for a foreign journalist. Abir has been released. Five days later Mariam is still lingering in a military prison. Why?

Mariam Barghouti.

Mariam Barghouti.

Mariam’s problems started when she, Abir and three international media workers were driving out of Nabi Saleh, a Ramallah district village known for protests against the occupation that has become almost a tourist stop for visitors to the region. Go on a Friday, and you can bump into media from Russia, tour groups from Norway—and a handful of Israelis. When Mariam was departing Israeli soldiers stopped the car and she and Abir were forcefully pulled from the vehicle and arrested for no apparent reason. The three foreigners were also detained briefly on site, but never placed under arrest.

Abir’s, and other, testimonies confirm the arresting soldiers acted out of anger unprovoked by the women, taunting them, “I’m going to mess up your life.” Abir said, “It was obvious to me then that not only will [the arresting soldier] fabricate everything for his own purposes, but he knows he has the power to do so.”

Supporters of Mariam released the following statement on April 15, 2014:

On Friday, April 11th, 2014, 20-year-old Mariam Barghouti, a university student at Birzeit, was arrested by Israeli forces. She was brought to court on Sunday, April 13th where she was charged and her detention extended until Wednesday, April 16th.

Mariam was arrested while leaving the village of Nabi Saleh. Mariam, along with Abir Kopty (a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship who was later released on bail), and three foreign journalists were detained by soldiers and searched. Mariam had been in Nabi Saleh accompanying some of the journalists on their assignments and translating for them. Soldiers on the scene fabricated charges against her and handed her over to the police who arrested her along with Abir. At her hearing yesterday Mariam was charged with stone-throwing and entering a closed military area; her detention has been extended until Wednesday. Mariam sobbed throughout the whole hearing and told her lawyer that the charges are simply lies.

Mariam is a student at Birzeit University where she is majoring in English Literature and Psychology. Mariam is also active in community work and organizing and received a two-month residency scholarship in the UK, part of a program supporting women.

Abir said that during the arrest incident on Friday, “one of the soldiers who detained us looked at me and with a big smile said, ‘I’m going to mess up your life.’ It was obvious to me then that not only will he fabricate everything for his own purposes, but he knows he has the power to do so.”

Mariam was supposed to be arraigned in military court at the beginning of the week. She was brought into the hearing room in shackles still in her clothes from Friday appearing distraught. But her court date was then postponed until Wednesday, and when charges were presented, to my surprise she was charged with stone-throwing, a serious matter because Mariam now faces a minimum of three-months in jail for a crime that by all accounts and logic she did not commit. Lest we forget, the arresting soldier admitted he would lie to make the young student and translator suffer. However, after today’s presentation by prosecutors, Mariam was not been let out on bail. The state attorneys may decide tomorrow to appeal of her release before judgment so she is still being held, which seems particularly cruel.

What is most worrisome in this surreal nightmare for Mariam, are the statistics. Remember this figure: 99.7%, it is the conviction rate for Palestinians in the Israeli military court system, which has jurisdiction on everything from speeding tickets to terrorism cases. Although Mariam is an American citizen, she is also a West Bank resident and therefore her rights as an American are not being honored. Instead she is being tried as a Palestinian under Israeli military code (different from the legal code applied to Israeli citizens). And even though her false arrest was documented and seen by many witnesses, with a 99.7% conviction rate and trials that last an average of five-minutes only, that’s an official figure reported by Palestinian human rights groups, it’s hard to imagine that a judge will be equipped with the resources to adjudicate her case. The head of the military court Col. Netanel Benishu said after taking his post last summer, the court is marred with a “system-wide and systematic” abuse to Palestinians in their right to seek a fair trial, even in conflict times.

Moreover Abir’s release from jail the same day as arrest demonstrates that under a normal criminal justice system, checks and balances would have kicked in (Abir is an Israeli citizen). I will assume it’s probable that had Mariam’s rights been upheld, she would have been released too.

Such an astonishing arrest, Mariam’s case has also brought the ire of the Associated Press’s diplomatic correspondent Matt Lee, who questioned State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki over why an American citizen, a translator on assignment was randomly detained. While the State Department was aware of Mariam’s detention they were not able to comment due to a gag from the Privacy Act Wavier. Here’s an excerpt of the transcript:

QUESTION: On Israel, two of them have to do with arrests made by Israeli authorities over the course of the past week or so. One involves an American woman, Mariam Barghouti. Do you know anything about that?

MS. PSAKI: Due to privacy considerations and no Privacy Act waiver –

QUESTION: Oh, great. This is going to be another – we’re going to go through the –

MS. PSAKI: – we’re unable to provide further or additional information, Matt.

For the moment, Mariam’s fate remains uncertain.






Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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14 Responses

  1. adele on April 16, 2014, 12:27 pm

    Imagine if an American citizen were arrested by the PA security forces? It would be all over the msm news. But when Israel does it, the silence formula kicks in.

    One thing I’m not clear on (and not heard of before), the “Privacy Act Waiver”. Can someone explain what this is?

    Please continue to keep us updated Alison, given how our (continually irrelevant) msm doesn’t.

    • joecatron on April 16, 2014, 4:05 pm

      It’s this thing:

      The law requiring it before the personal details of someone’s case can be discussed is actually sort of reasonable.

      • talknic on April 16, 2014, 10:42 pm

        Copies of the Privacy Act Waiver can be signed and safely in the hands of your family in advance.

    • ritzl on April 16, 2014, 4:27 pm

      Sandra Tamari went through this Privacy Act Waiver circularity.

      Ms. Barghoutti’s case is more acute because she is still in custody and may not be allowed to sign one. State may not be obligated to say what they are doing for her while she is in custody. How convenient.

      You would think that these spox would simply say (or the questioners ask) that/whether she has been presented with a waiver and signed it or has been prevented from signing it.

      • ckg on April 16, 2014, 9:52 pm

        American citizen Munib Al-Masri, an AUB student shot at a Nakba protest in 2011, got the same Privacy Act treatment. That time it was Matt Lee asking Mark Toner

      • ckg on April 16, 2014, 10:31 pm

        Relevant twitter thread about Privacy Act waiver in Mariam’s case:

      • adele on April 17, 2014, 1:48 am

        Thanks for clarifying what the Privacy Waiver Act is.

        Quite farcical though that the spox uses this paper formality as an excuse for not discussing the matter of an imprisoned American citizen, especially one who was described as looking distraught when she appeared in the Israeli military court. I wonder if the spox would reply in the same manner if an American citizen were imprisoned by Iran, let’s say.

        As Ritzl said: “How convenient”.

      • LeaNder on April 17, 2014, 10:12 am

        Hey, that is interesting. I didn’t know that Richard has a twitter feed. Matt Lee too. That guy surely sticks out lately from the crowd.

      • ritzl on April 17, 2014, 11:24 am

        Thanks ckg. Very informative. It looks like the right questions are being asked.

  2. DICKERSON3870 on April 16, 2014, 12:30 pm

    RE: Abir’s, and other, testimonies confirm the arresting soldiers acted out of anger unprovoked by the women, taunting them, “I’m going to mess up your life.” ~ Deger

    SEE: “Everyday Sadists Take Pleasure In Others’ Pain”,, September 12, 2013

    [EXCERPT] Most of the time, we try to avoid inflicting pain on others — when we do hurt someone, we typically experience guilt, remorse, or other feelings of distress. But for some, cruelty can be pleasurable, even exciting. New research suggests that this kind of everyday sadism is real and more common than we might think.
    Two studies led by psychological scientist Erin Buckels of the University of British Columbia revealed that people who score high on a measure of sadism seem to derive pleasure from behaviors that hurt others, and are even willing to expend extra effort to make someone else suffer.
    The new findings are published in “Psychological Science”, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
    “Some find it hard to reconcile sadism with the concept of ‘normal’ psychological functioning, but our findings show that sadistic tendencies among otherwise well-adjusted people must be acknowledged,” says Buckels. “These people aren’t necessarily serial killers or sexual deviants but they gain some emotional benefit in causing or simply observing others’ suffering.” . . .


  3. Citizen on April 16, 2014, 12:31 pm

    An American citizen? You mean like the bull-dozed girl and the assassinated boy on the boat? How about the one eyed artist girl? America is a Zionist-owned entity.

  4. pabelmont on April 16, 2014, 1:12 pm

    Mariam Barghouti and other translators (and reporters) should learn from this. Those who can should approach demonstrations with their (dominant) hands handcuffed behind their backs (or to their cameras, microphones. etc.). This would (or at least might) create a hardship for the IDFniks who’d have to think up a different story to tell the police and the judges. Rock-throwing would (or might) seem prima facie unlikely in this scenario.

    • LeaNder on April 17, 2014, 10:23 am

      I am not sure, pabelmont. They would argue that was a trick and you only cuffed your dominant hand to bluff observes, the services, the military. Could you in fact prove it was your dominant hand? Maybe you trained to be able to write with both hands and to respond spontaneously with the other only before the event. They could in fact argue, this was the best evidence of all, since it proves your intentions indirectly. ;) Yes, I consider the procedures Kafkaesque by now.

      Both hands would work maybe? And keeping the key in your hotel room, or better somewhere safe or with your lawyer. Slightly uncomfortable though.

  5. Cliff on April 16, 2014, 2:19 pm

    Meanwhile, the ‘plight’ of Jewish students on campus goes on unabated!

    Blah blah Syria, blah blah China, blah blah Darfur. Only Jewish State, blah blah 384957 Muslim States.

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