Marwan Barghouti is Arafat's likely popular successor. Tanzim militia leader, Fatah Secretary-General (since 1994) and a key figure in both the first Intifada and the present Intifadat al-Aqsa, Marwan sits in an Israeli jail, sentenced last June 6 and now serving five life sentences plus 40 years in Nafha prison for alleged multiple murder. He repeatedly denounced the "show trial" as illegal, the court devoid of jurisdiction.
When the freedom fighter was sentenced, he said: "The continuation of the intifada is the only path to independence. No matter how many they arrest or kill, they will not break the determination of the Palestinian people. I don’t care whether I am sentenced to one life sentence, or 10 or 50; my day of liberty is the day the occupation ends. [...] The Israeli courts are a partner to the Israeli occupation. The judges are just like pilots who fly planes and drop bombs." During his trial, the Israeli peace bloc Gush Shalom protested demanding: "Barghouti to the negotiating table, not to jail!"
A Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti was launched in 2002. Its original advisory committee included Hanan Ashrawi, the late Edward Said, Nelson Mandela and Noam Chomsky. Its website, providing much material on Barghouti, the 'case' against him, several essays and statements by him on many issues, and sample letters of petition and protest, can be visited at http://www.freebarghouti.org . Check it out! The website has not been recently updated but soon will be refurbished for this new stage in the struggle not only to secure his freedom but to protect his life. An International Committee to Free Barghouti was launched in Morocco in late June 2004.
An important interview with Barghouti in November 2001 with the Israeli daily paper Ma'ariv is available at: http://home.mindspring.com/~fontenelles/barghouti.htm Here a report on his sentencing, "Arafat’s Likely Successor Gets Five Life Terms": http://www.fromoccupiedpalestine.org/node.php?id=1307
As Marwan wrote in an article in the Washington Post in January 2002: "I am not a terrorist, but neither am I a pacifist. I am simply a regular guy from the Palestinian street advocating only what every other oppressed person has advocated -- the right to help myself in the absence of help from anywhere else." ( http://www.freebarghouti.org/prespectives/wp-ed.html ). He was apprehended by the Israeli army in Ramallah on April 15, 2002, and has been illegally held in Israeli jails since then.
FUTURE PRESIDENT BEHIND BARS? Should he enter the fray as an independent, Barghouti, could handily emerge victor in the upcoming Palestinian poll on January 9 – or better the semblance of an election under the suffocation and 'travel restrictions' of the Occupation -- and then become Palestine's president behind bars convicted to life imprisonment. A grim sequel to Abu Ammar's final years of confinement as a virtual prisoner in the Muqata.
FREEDOM NOW! Israeli and international progressives should raise two demands now loud and clear: for Barghouti's immediate release from prison and for the protection of his safety wherever he is. There is a definite danger the Israeli government may decide to 'eliminate' him if they think he is the likely choice of the Palestinian masses. It would be a huge complicating factor for the Israeli authorities to keep an elected Palestinian president behind bars. They have him in custody, his assassination, or a staged fatal 'accident,' would be child’s play. He narrowly survived an Israeli assassination attempt in August 2001.
MACHINATIONS? On the other hand, the Israeli oligarchy may decide to keep Barghouti in the picture and alive as a viable Fatah alternative to challenge the radical Islamic Hamas, which is increasingly popular at the grassroots and may field a presidential candidate.
We can be certain that the Sharon and his cabal anticipated the present situation. When Barghouti was sentenced last June, they were probably already aware of Arafat's failing health. They know Barghouti would likely be the most popular leader to succeed Arafat in a fair popular election. This would mean a president behind bars, perhaps represented by a vice-president acting in his proxy. There would be massive international protest for his release, including perhaps pressure from Washington. Can the Israeli leadership want this eventuality? It seems unlikely. Then what do they have in mind? Maybe his release as a ‘historic gesture’ of reconciliation, with numerous 'strings' attached, is actually contemplated. Or his cold-blooded murder. Even staging an assassination to make it look like an internal Palestinian struggle between Hamas and Fatah. The Israeli Shabak (Security Service) is skilled in all aspects of state murder. It is clear Sharon & Co., and the Euro-Atlantic power bloc, want a figure like Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) as new Palestinian president -- whom they hope to wind around their political finger in any future 'negotiated' settlement. Of course, Shabak could seek to liquidate even Abu Mazen, who may have escaped an assassination attempt on Nov. 14 in Gaza.
Whatever the future chess game with Barghouti's fate by Israel’s ruling elite, his freedom and safety now should be primary demands of an international movement to ensure the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership with strong ties to the Palestinian masses – a leadership that is not a compliant puppet of the Israeli ruling class and the West overseeing a vassal state totally controlled by Israel.
BUILD SOLIDARITY: a broad coalition of support for Barghouti’s freedom and safety should be built now. Include demands for his release and protection from possible murder in all manifestations of solidarity with the Palestinians and protests against the Apartheid Wall! Hands off Barghouti! Send a clear message to Sharon and his cabal of oppression and state terror! And to Sharon's backers in Washington and Europe.
A THIRD SHORT-TERM DEMAND: To ensure that a fair election with high turn-out can take place on January 9, 2005 under the Ihtilal and its Suffocation, a third demand must be raised: as Saeb Erekat and Gush Shalom have called for, the troops of the Israeli IDF must be pulled back from all cities and towns in the Occupied West Bank to their positions before the present Uprising, and Palestinians in Jerusalem/al-Quds must be allowed to exercise their franchise. Free and unhindered travel and access to polling places must be assured.
Zeev bin Natan