The New York Times has run a stirring piece by Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian leader who has been imprisoned for 15 years, in its international edition today. Titled, “Why We Are on Hunger Strike,” the article describes Israel as a “moral and political failure” whose record of imprisoning 40 percent of Palestinian males is typical of occupying, colonial regimes. Barghouti several times refers to Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment and declares, “Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.”
Meanwhile, Barghouti is leading an increasingly successful hunger strike among imprisoned Palestinians. The strike started with 700 taking part, and has already expanded to several thousand.
Sadly, Barghouti’s article only appears in the International edition of the Times, not the domestic edition. Why does someone in Paris need to see this more than someone in New York? Think of the logic. This is an American issue. The Times‘s decision is clearly an effort, possibly subconsciously, to demote Barghouti’s eloquent cry for freedom to secondary status.
But nothing can diminish Barghouti’s importance. He was moved on Monday to solitary confinement. “The Israel Prison Service said it was trying to break up the hunger strike,” Haaretz reported.
In his op-ed, Barghouti relates “an unbelievable state of affairs” in Israeli prisons:
Over the past five decades, according to the human rights group Addameer, more than 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned or detained by Israel — equivalent to about 40 percent of the Palestinian territory’s male population. Today, about 6,500 are still imprisoned, among them some who have the dismal distinction of holding world records for the longest periods in detention of political prisoners. There is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured the suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members.
Barghouti describes Israel’s dual legal processes for Palestinians and Israelis in occupied territories as “a form of judicial apartheid,” and notes that imprisonment has failed because prisoners are fostering resistance:
Israel’s prisons have become the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners’ movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom [a reference to Nelson Mandela’s book].
Barghouti notes the burgeoning global support for Palestinians:
Their solidarity exposes Israel’s moral and political failure. Rights are not bestowed by an oppressor. Freedom and dignity are universal rights that are inherent in humanity, to be enjoyed by every nation and all human beings. Palestinians will not be an exception.
If this article were about the internal politics of the European Union — sure, someone in Paris will be more interested than an American. But Israel/Palestine is among the most important domestic U.S. foreign policy issues. Printing this piece in New York would surely have angered a lot of the newspaper’s base. There was no doubt a struggle at the Times; many are afraid of Barghouti’s political potential, as the most logical heir to Yasser Arafat, popular among Palestinians of all political persuasions.
Meantime, kudos to the Times‘s Jerusalem correspondent Ian Fisher for actually covering the prisoners’ hunger strike: “Over 1,000 Palestinian Prisoners in Israel Stage Hunger Strike.” Barghouti is front and center in this article, and Palestinians are quoted very high up.
More than a thousand Palestinians in Israeli prisons took part in a hunger strike on Monday, demanding better conditions in a protest that was unusual for its large size and for the fact that it was led by Marwan Barghouti, the most prominent detainee and a figure often seen as a future Palestinian leader. . .
“Israel is taking it seriously simply because of the possible consequences,” said Ghassan Khatib, a professor at Birzeit University and a former Palestinian official. “The issue of prisoners is very emotional.”
Too many times we have read in the western press, Why do Palestinians go straight to violence? Where is the Gandhi or Mandela of Palestine? Right before your eyes, is the answer. Nothing could be more peaceful than this hunger strike. Good for the Times for covering it in the news columns.
Thanks to Allison Deger.