As we mark 50 years of Israeli occupation, over 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners have begun a hunger strike. The reasons behind this dramatic move were explained in a telling piece by Marwan Barghouti, a parliamentarian and a member of the Fatah Central Committee and today one of the most prominent voices in the struggle for justice, freedom and peace. Israel tried to deny him his right to speak up and decided not to respond to its content. Rather, they decided to call Marwan a terrorist, as well as accusing the publisher, the New York Times, of “journalistic terrorism." In the recent past we have also been accused of “diplomatic terrorism," for asking for Palestine’s membership in the UN, as well as of "economic terrorism," for supporting economic sanctions against the Israeli occupation.
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Branding Barghouti as a terrorist doesn’t change the facts of the Israeli occupation in general and of what was written in his op-ed. Making the verdict of a colonialist court with no legitimacy under any international legal standards, as we Palestinians view it, known for its complicity with Israeli violations of international law, the sole basis for the accusations against an elected representative of the occupied people is nothing short of ridiculous.
Some prominent Israeli leaders who accused Marwan of terrorism, like Mr. Netanyahu, have been responsible for hundreds of killings of Palestinian civilians, way more than what the Israeli occupation claims that Marwan did. In fact, not a single country on earth has agreed with the Israeli claim that Marwan, someone who now calls for freedom and dignity for all, is a terrorist. We reject the description of 'terrorist' for Marwan Barghouti: He is a political leader fighting for freedom.
The fact that matters is that Barghouti, who supports the two-state solution on the 1967 border, international law, UN resolutions, who has publicly opposed the targeting of civilians inside Israel and who now calls for mass popular and peaceful protest and civil disobedience is in an Israeli jail, while those who advocate for the systematic denial of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, colonization, apartheid and killings are in government in Israel.
The legal expert of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Simon Foreman, who was sent to see the situation of Barghouti, defined his trial as a political rather than a legal one. His words: “The numerous breaches of international law recalled in my report make it impossible to conclude that Mr. Barghouti was given a fair trial.”
Israel is a colonial power in Palestine. I know that many Israelis, and their supporters, don’t like to look at the reality of what is happening in our occupied country, but let me tell you: There is no “benign occupation” but cruelty and oppression. The Israeli occupation is about denying our people of our sovereign rights. The Palestinian people, including the prisoners, are under the protection of the Geneva Conventions, and this is systematically ignored by the occupying power.
It is not only about the theft of our land and natural resources, colonization and home demolitions. It is also Palestinians as Israeli prisoners: As stated in Marwan's op-ed, "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."
In light of such facts, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the European Parliament, among several other organizations, have called for Marwan’s release. Eight Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, 120 governments supported the International Campaign for the Freedom of Marwan Barghouti and all Palestinian prisoners.
Barghouti’s op-ed successfully raised the case of over 6,500 Palestinian political prisoners, perhaps the most representative case to show the reality of the Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation. Israel should be questioned about torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, deliberate medical neglect, and long isolation of prisoners, forcible transfer of prisoners to the occupying power’s territory, restrictions and violations of visitation rights as well as the right of education of prisoners. It should be questioned about the mass arbitrary arrest including of children, women, parliamentarians, journalists, and human rights defenders. Israel should be asked about the illegal use of administrative detention, the worst form of arbitrary detention, to deprive hundreds of Palestinians of their freedom without any charges for indefinite periods of time.
As over 1,500 Palestinian political prisoners are being additionally punished for joining the hunger strike, if any representative of the Israeli occupation wants to reply to Barghouti’s op-ed, let them address those questions instead of trying to hide their crimes and violations behind a generic accusation of terrorism against an entire nation striving for freedom and independence.
Qaddoura Fares is the head of the Palestinian Prisoners Association.
Marwan Barghouti was arrested in 2002 and convicted in 2004 for five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization, including dispatching terrorists to carry out attacks during the second intifada in which five Israeli civilians were killed.