Do You Feel Uncomfortable About the Release of the Marwan Barghouti Tape? 'Why Should I?'

Haaretz speaks to Israel Prison Service's legal adviser about the footage showing the Palestinian hunger strike leader snacking in his cell

Israel releases footage of leader of Palestinian hunger strike eating in his prison cell
Israel Prison Service

Hello to attorney Yochi Gnessin, legal adviser to the Israel Prison Service. Nir Gontarz from Haaretz here. How are you?

I don’t speak with journalists other than through the spokesman.

Let me just tell you what it’s about. If you want, you’ll respond, and if you don’t want, you won’t respond.

Everything goes through the spokesman.

Are you willing to at least hear the question?

I’m willing, but I don’t promise to reply. Everything goes through the spokesman.

Here’s the question. The Prison Service released that footage of the [hunger-striking Palestinian] prisoner Marwan Barghouti [eating in his prison cell]. Is the Prison Service allowed to film prisoners in the bathroom, and is

Just as I thought: You’re not asking questions about legal matters.

Just a second, I’m not done. Is it permitted to film prisoners in the bathroom? And second: Is it legitimate and legal to release to the public shots of a prisoner in the bathroom?

I repeat my answer. Every question you have, submit it through the spokesman.

Yochi Gnessin, left, legal adviser to the Israel Prison Service.
Tomer Appelbaum

But you are the authority. If I go to the spokesman, he’ll come to you for answers. Right?

I don’t know. He might go to the head of the intelligence department.

I see, fine. Thank you very much. I’ll try other ways

I think these questions are out of place.

Why out of place?

Because. Because you don’t know where the camera was. Where it was positioned. When you go into the bathroom at home, and your wife enters. Okay? Is there a problem with that? And the children? And the children?

They are my partners.

They are not your partners, the children. But fine. Okay. Look, I didn’t see the whole clip, so I’m not getting into everything that was seen in it. Not about the Bissli [a snack] and the waffle bars. What’s absolutely clear to me is that in the footage, he is seen dressed from head to toe, and that’s all.

In the bathroom. On the toilet.

Yes, but he wasn’t relieving himself, as you understood. Right?

If my partner entered – alright. But if she had filmed me on the toilet and released it

The camera doesn’t show any toilet.

I saw it with my own eyes.

The door was open. The camera doesn’t film the toilet. I didn’t see the whole film, and that’s all. The only segment I saw was what my children sent me, where he’s seen dressed. I don’t remember if he has shoes, but that doesn’t matter.

What? Your children showed you the footage? The Prison Service didn’t consult with you? Didn’t they show it to you before it was released?

I’m not meant to see all kinds of films. What do you think, that I authorize every film for release? Go to the spokesman.

Fine, but it feels a little to me like

What? What does it feel like to you?

Barghouti is a murderer. He was convicted. There’s no sympathy for him here, but

It’s not a matter of sympathy. You are starting from the assumption that. You have all kinds of points of departure that--

That I want to clarify.

Alright. So clarify through the spokesman.

Fine. I was just surprised that you saw the footage for the first time through the children. But alright. Thank you.

I surprised you because I received it from the children? Alright. By the way, not only from the children. Does that surprise you, too? The children asked me what kind of Bissli it was. Alright? They asked me which snack. Alright? That’s all. You journalists, to my great regret, deal with trivialities.

I hear in your voice that you are not in the least uncomfortable about the release of the footage.

I don’t feel uncomfortable. Why should I feel uncomfortable? I would feel uncomfortable if he were filmed while he was relieving himself. Alright?

Alright. But even a despicable prisoner has rights. His right is to sit in the bathroom without the authorities filming him and releasing the footage for political purposes.

The footage. Was released. For political. Purposes. I see! Good! The [hunger] strike is legitimate and the footage was released for political purposes. Look at the connection you’re making!

Why are you getting angry?

I’m not getting angry. You tripped up in your language.

I didn’t trip up in my language. Every prisoners’ strike in the world is legitimate. In Brazil, in Nicaragua, in Israel, wherever you want. Do you think otherwise?

It’s an offense. I suggest that you read the Prisons Ordinance. Under the ordinance, to go on hunger strike is an offense. Okay?

Alright. So the prisoners are violating the laws of the state. I understand. And the state releases the footage for political purposes, in order to break the strike.

And that’s political purposes? I see.

Didn’t you see how the minister responsible [Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan] celebrated it?

I, uh, reject utterly the statement that the release of the footage was intended for political purposes. Was the release of the footage of [former MK] Basel Ghattas smuggling in cellphones also for political purposes?!

Wow, you’re absolutely shouting at me.

No, no, no. I’m raising my voice because I’m far from the speaker.

To film Ghattas smuggling the phones is an operational need. Releasing the footage is politically motivated.

I see. We have a difference of opinion.

The filming is operationally legitimate. Releasing it to the public is in order to harm him politically. How could anyone think otherwise?

I see. And you don’t think that all kinds of people who obey his authority will see that he doesn’t practice what he preaches and maybe will decide that his leadership isn’t leadership that deserves to be followed?

Well? That’s political.

Absolutely not. It’s a hunger strike that’s being organized collectively by Marwan Barghouti – that’s my historical analysis based on reading and based on a certain knowledge of the Arabic language that I have.

I understood that you’ve just come from a meeting with the Prison Service commissioner. Well? Did you succeed in breaking the strike?

The spokesman has just entered by chance! And as I told you, I do not intend under any circumstances to respond to all these responses [sic], unless you go through the spokesman. By chance he’s just come in.

Funny. By the way, give him my regards. I tried to go through him yesterday, but he hung up on me.

In your eyes, it’s alright to organize a hunger strike. An attempt to prevent its continuation serves a political purpose. That’s a flawed reality check, in my view.

When the strong films the weak in the bathroom, I’m uncomfortable with that.

“Weak.” I see. OK. “The strong films the weak.” I see. Flawed reality check.

OK. Thanks. Bye.