For several years, Western media have regularly painted Marwan Barghouti—the Fatah official, imprisoned by Israel, who masterminded the second intifada—as a Palestinian peacemaker on the model of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela. Just this past weekend, the New York Times ran a lengthy op-ed piece by Barghouti touting a planned prisoners’ hunger strike, vilifying Israel, and presenting himself as a victim of arbitrary arrest and brutal confinement as a mere political activist; obligingly, the Times identified its guest author, who in fact is serving four life sentences for multiple murders of Israeli civilians, only as a “Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.” Dexter van Zile writes about the travesty of equating the blood-soaked master terrorist with Mandela:
Mandela . . . had the foresight and courage to demand that the African National Congress abandon its view of the white South Africans as European colonialists who had no right to live in Africa. . . . In the Palestinian context, a would-be Mandela would have to confront and contend with religious, not racial issues. Many so-called peace-and-justice activists would have us believe that the primary obstacles to peace are Jewish claims to the West Bank, but the real challenge is Muslim supremacism. The Palestinian elite wields power because of its willingness to, at the very least, pay lip service to this supremacism. This is how Yasir Arafat achieved and stayed in power, and how Mahmoud Abbas has remained president of the Palestinian Authority. By way of comparison, the African National Congress under Mandela’s leadership did not promote an ideology of black supremacism, and Mandela himself repudiated such ideas time and again.
Efforts to portray Barghouti as a Palestinian Mandela obfuscate the issue of his beliefs, which are antithetical to those of Mandela. For example, in a March 2014 Guardian article . . . Martin Linton declared that Barghouti “always opposed actions targeting Israeli civilians, even while defending the right of Palestinians to resist.” This claim appears to be based on an op-ed Barghouti wrote for the Washington Post in 2002, in which he asserted, “While I, and the Fatah movement to which I belong, strongly oppose attacks and the targeting of civilians inside Israel [i.e., within the pre-1967 borders], our future neighbor, I reserve the right to protect myself, to resist the Israeli occupation of my country, and to fight for my freedom.”
There’s just one problem: Barghouti certainly did support attacks on civilians, and we know this because he explicitly said so in public. Moreover, he acted according to his beliefs. Prior to his arrest in 2002, he was the leader of Tanzim and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, terrorist organizations responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israeli civilians on both sides of the Green Line.