Opinion |

Who Will History Favor: Palestine's Arch-terrorist or Israel's Arch-jailer?

The contest is between Marwan Barghouti, leader of the hunger strike who was caught nibbling a wafer, and Gilad Erdan, the minister who set a trap for him

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Minister Gilad Erdan: The Israeli heir to notorious U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Minister Gilad Erdan.Credit: Mark Israel Salem
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

In the end, history will judge. And whom will history remember — Gilad Erdan or Marwan Barghouti? The wheeler-dealer from Ramat Aviv Gimmel (formerly of Savion), who lives, incidentally, on a street named for a Jewish assassin, or the fighter from the Kishon lockup (formerly of Hadarim Prison)? The jailer or the prisoner? The one who hid the candy, or the one who ate it? The minister or the “arch-murderer,” as Channel 2 correspondent Moshe Nussbaum refers to him?

Which of the two is fighting for a more just cause? Which of them is fighting for anything at all? Which of them has sacrificed something in the course of his life? And who is responsible for more bloodshed? Who is more interested in peace? In the end, history will judge.

Actually, history decided long ago. Erdan won’t even be a footnote. As the minister who oversees the Israel Police and the Border Police, he is also responsible for the bloodshed at their hands. As for Barghouti, he has worked for peace far more than Erdan has, until he despaired and justifiably so.

Erdan’s hair is more sleekly styled, his suit is better designed and his fancy watch glitters in the light. The last time I saw Barghouti he was wearing a cheap Casio. Both of them studied political science and Erdan also studied law. He’s certainly more educated. Erdan went to a yeshiva high school and Barghouti didn’t. Erdan worked for the Builders Association; not Bargouti. Both have four children and Erdan is more devoted to his, because he can see them. At the same age that Erdan was studying in yeshiva, Barghouti joined the Palestinian struggle. At the same age that Erdan was an adjutancy officer, Barghouti had already been arrested for the first time.

When Erdan came out against the Oslo Accords, Barghouti was knocking on doors in Israel and trying to persuade people of the importance of peace. Erdan may be the “man of the decade in the battle against road accidents” (as the Or Yarok road safety organization has called him), but the man of the decade in the real struggle is Barghouti. Erdan has never struggled for anything in his life, except for his place on Knesset lists. A member of five Knessets and a minister in three governments, he’s sacrificed nothing on the altar of an idea. He didn’t even fight for the broadcast corporation he had worked so hard to create; he folded, fell silent and weakly succumbed, intimidated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Erdan isn’t the type to pay a personal price for something. Barghouti has sacrificed his life, his family and his fate for the loftiest of ideas. Barghouti is a freedom fighter. Erdan fights in party primaries. Barghouti is a street cat. Erdan is a pet poodle.

An Israeli prison guard escorts jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, center, to a deliberation at Jerusalem Magistrate's Court in January, 2012.Credit: Baz Ratner/ Reuters

Now Barghouti is on a hunger strike, and Erdan set a trap for him. You’ve got to hand it to Erdan and the Israel Prison Service; they have no shame, not even the slightest. Go ahead and film, you jailers, you heroes on the backs of the weak. Keep filming in the bathrooms, above the toilets and beneath them, and broadcast the clips in prime time. Set a mouse trap and publicize all your catches, you wretched souls. They’ll like it in the branches of the Likud party. Erdan vs. Barghouti. “I can’t give details about who put it [the camera] in. When I retire I’ll be able to tell,” said the Tortit minister, as if safeguarding a secret.

The Israeli John Le Carré also praised the “intelligence work” of the Israel Prison Service. Whoa, what intelligence work! There could be nothing more pitiable than that, nor will there be. The man who is responsible for a police force that demonstrates to children how to confirm the killing of a helpless wounded man or how to sic dogs on human beings is naturally also proud of the heroic work by the prison service in Operation Tortit.

So it’s 1-0 in Erdan’s favor. The arch-jailer beat the arch-terrorist. Barghouti ate the wafer; the battle has been decided. Barghouti isn’t hunger-striking, he took a nibble. But in one day of hunger-striking, including the Tortit, Barghouti has sacrificed more than Erdan has given up in his whole life for anything. And in one day of hunger-striking Barghouti is struggling for a cause more just than any issue Erdan has ever even thought about, including his fight against road accidents.

So hail Erdan, the hero of the moment. History will applaud Barghouti.

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