Opinion

Barghouti Betrayed the People Who Trusted Him

The last thing the glorious history of political hunger striking needs is this video clip of the Palestinian leader sneaking a candy bar in jail

Marwan Barghouti is seen in his prison cell in Israel in this still image taken from video on May 9, 2017.
Reuters through Israel Prison Services

Sometimes a Tortit is only a Tortit, a chocolate-coated wafer bar, an object of desire – and sometimes it’s a twist of fate. In the case of Marwan Barghouti, it’s both. Anyone who has had a yen for something sweet during a serious attack of munchies, or after abstaining while on a diet, knows that eating in secret during a hunger strike is human, all too human.

But that’s precisely the problem: A leader has to be more than human; he is a contemporary version of the mythological hero. He must undergo a series of difficult tests designed to ensure that he is worthy of his status, that he can overcome the dangers and lead his people confidently to their destination, and that he has the courage, the wisdom and the benevolence required to serve them.

That’s why I don’t understand why the left is making light of the fact that the leader of the Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails, who in their name declared a hunger strike that is causing serious emotional and physical suffering and endangering their lives, ate a Tortit in a hiding place.

The Palestinian prisoners’ conditions are disgraceful. They are not entitled to cohabit with their partners, or even to meet with them without a glass partition separating them, and even these meetings occur only rarely. They are forbidden to talk on the phone or engage in any other communication. What makes these restrictions intolerable is that they will continue for their entire lives, because most of them can only dream of a release that is not in the context of a prisoner-exchange agreement. That’s why their struggle for an improvement in conditions is just.

The Haaretz editorial (“It’s not only about candy,” May 9) gave a good description of the government’s efforts to break the spirit of the hunger strikers by means of force feeding. In that case, and if the responsibility placed on Barghouti’s shoulders is so great, why is the choir singing the obvious song about the dubious legality of installing the camera in the bathroom and distributing the video clip, and about Gilad Erdan’s Cheshire cat smile and the satisfaction of the Shin Bet security services? After all, the more just the prisoners’ struggle, the sharper should be the focus on Barghouti, who betrayed his position and his followers and abandoned them.

Andrei Sakharov, who went on a hunger strike during his struggle for human rights, was hospitalized and in the end was also force fed. The death of Sinn Fein member Terence McSweeney after 74 days of fasting in a British prison became an inspiration for the mass hunger strike of Irish prisoners in 1981, which ended in the death of their leader Bobby Sands. Prisoners from the Communist Party in pre-state Israel also managed to get the British Mandate government to recognize them as political prisoners after they went on a hunger strike.

All these strikes were led by determined and fearless leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, who saw fasting as an effective tool in his struggle against colonialism. The last thing that this glorious history of political struggle needs is the stain of this video clip.

Bagrhouti eating a Tortit in secret is an image that arouses embarrassment and fury. We are witnessing the collapse of the spirit, the surrender to physical needs – a surrender that every human being is familiar with, but which a true leader must overcome. Barghouti betrayed the people who trusted him. His aspirations went beyond the desire to lead the prisoners in jail. Barghouti hoped that like Nelson Mandela he would lead them outside the gates, too, and bring them along a bumpy road, by diplomatic negotiations, to self determination and the removal of the Israeli occupation and the apartheid regime in the territories. His surrender to the almond-flavored object of his desire arouses doubt as to whether he is made of the right stuff.