Marwan Barghouti has become a leading spokesman for the Palestinian Intifada, which on September 28th, 2001 entered its second year. Barghouti is the Secretary General of the Fateh party in the West Bank. Fateh, considered to be the mainstream center party in Palestinian politics, is also the largest Palestinian political party, and is headed by Yasser Arafat who also is head of the Palestinian Authority. Exiled by the Israeli occupation authorities in 1986 as the former head of Fateh in Birzeit University, Barghouti was allowed to return to Occupied Territories in 1995 with the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. In 1996 he was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council for the district of Ramallah -- the only democratically elected body in Palestinian politics. Throughout the past year, Barghouti has taken an increasingly radical perspective to Palestinian politics, in firm opposition to what was known as the "peace process". This stems from an increasingly ubiquitous resolution that the "peace process" was nothing less than a guise for Israel to consolidate its control over the Occupied Territories through the construction of an intricate network of settlements, 'by-passing' [Arab] roads, and cantonizing the Palestinian population -- a resolution that ultimately led to the outbreak of the current Intifada. Barghouti's increasing populist radicalism should not be construed as 'working for the Palestinian Authority' but is more indicative of an increasing process of radicalization that Fateh itself is undergoing, with or without the blessing of the Palestinian Authority. In early August, Barghouti survived an Israeli assassination attempt when two rockets were fired at a convoy of cars he was in from a nearby Israeli settlement/colony. Israel has also recently made a formal request to the Palestinian Authority that he be handed over to Israel pertaining to the leading role he has played in the Intifada.
Q: Are you afraid?
A: Yes, I'm afraid. But I don't live with this fear. I am usually not a fearful person. Everyday I go to funerals, I make speeches to the public, I leave my bodyguards and mingle with the crowd. I don't trust any policeman. I trust my senses. I'm very careful.
Q: Do you sleep at home?
A: Not every night. Three weeks ago I almost got killed. I was in my office. I asked my bodyguards to bring my car. On that day, we had two cars. One of the boys had taken a car to buy something. Just before I got into the second car, he returned [so Barghouti got into the car that just returned] and at that same moment, the second car blew up. It was a missile that came from the direction of Psagot [settlement that overlooks El Bireh and Ramallah]. The Israelis said that it was meant for someone else, but I know that it was meant for me.
It hurts when I think of my children and of my wife. Were it not for this struggle I would have gone to teach in the university. [Barghouti has a M.A degree in political sciences and was teaching the subject at Bir Zeit University until the Intifada]. But we want our independence, and for independence one must pay the price.
Q: What protects you from assassination?
A: I think that the Israelis, in regards to this issue, have crossed all red lines. They are trying to kill the entire new, moderate leadership of the Palestinian people. Of all the terrible things which you are doing, this is the worst. It sets the land on fire in a form I have never seen before. Organizations such as the Popular Front, which until now did not constitute a problem, will now present a problem. They have to be. The same applies to the Democratic Front.
So what am I saying? If the Israelis continue to attack our lives, killing people on the ground, day by day, attacking with tanks and aircraft, why should the people of Tel Aviv be allowed to live a secure life? You do not respect our 'A' areas, we do not respect your 'A' areas. If you come into my home and do as you please, why should I be polite in your home? We are going in one direction only -- towards escalation. By the end of the year, it will be much more difficult.
We must begin to talk clearly and honestly. The Intifada united all Palestinians to one political goal: to end the occupation and to establish an independent Palestinian state within the borders of '67. That's what you have to look at, not the terror. Why do the Israelis want to liquidate me? Because they are looking either for slaves or for collaborators. We will not be your slaves. If you wish to speak with a strong, nationalistic leadership, that can achieve a true peace, you have to speak with the real leadership. I asked Arafat to stop talking about the Mitchell protocol and the Tenet document. These do not lead to a real peace. In my judgments, any plan that does not include the schedule for a full withdrawal will not bring peace and quiet. Mitchell and Tenet?! (Swears.) It's a disgrace even to speak about them. As long as the occupation continues, there will be no ceasefire.
Arafat should not meet with Peres. It's a waste of time. What can come of it? Arafat wants to hear a lecture on the new Middle East? Does he have so much time to waste?"
Q: What kind of relationship do you and Arafat have?
A: He is a leader. I am not one of his clerks. I am a partner. I don't take orders from anybody.
Q: Help us understand how you work. Do you give the orders and the Tantheem men do the shooting?
A: Not everything has to be understood.The Tantheem are an Israeli invention. The Tantheem is Fateh, the internal apparatus of Fateh, the activists. A few weeks after the Intifada began, after 65 people had been killed, under the pressure of the killing, Fateh started shooting.
We said we would not attack inside the Green Line. The real face of the occupation is the settlements and the soldiers. So we began to attack settlers and soldiers. We, Fateh, played the most significant role during the first months. Since then, until this very day, I have no connections with the military faction of Fateh.
Q: Did you sever your ties intentionally?
A: I don't want to go into that.
Q: Wasn't the political competition between you and Hamas the reason you opened fire?
A: That wasn't the main point. The main thing was to resist the occupation relentlessly. What were the Israelis thinking -- that if they elected Sharon he would stop the Intifada for them? Sharon came to the government on a security horse. That was his horse. I said, we will break this horse of his. He promised to stop the Intifada in 100 days. Already 200 days have passed and nothing has stopped. He hasn't succeeded and he will not succeed. I think we have overcome him. Now it remains to finish what we started and overthrow him. Sharon was the last bullet in the Israeli gun. He was your last chance for security. If we throw him, that's the prologue to the end of the occupation. After him, there will be nobody promising security, only peace.
Q: If Sharon goes, Netanyahu will return, so what exactly will you gain?
A: So Netanyahu will return. No problem. In the end you'll understand. How will you understand? Not by talking. You'll understand only when you'll pay the price.
Q: Do you hate Israelis?
A: I don't love you, that's for sure. I hate the occupation and the settlers. The settlements are terror. It's killing, just like a suicide bomber. To take my land from me and build a house for somebody else on it! In my eyes the settlers are like mosquitoes, of the worst kind in the world.
Q: Is what happened this year compatible with what you had planned?
A: Do you think that somebody sat down and prepared a strategic plan? The Intifada started when Sharon went to the Al Aqsa Compound. In my judgment, even before at Camp David when Israelis for the first time sat down with the Palestinians to discuss the most sensitive topics. And then the Palestinians understood that there is no Jerusalem, no return, and no independent state. That the Israelis and the Americans want to enforce a settlement upon them -- in fact to reorganize the Israeli occupation.
From the first day [of the Intifada], I said: "This is not for a week and not for two." Nobody believed that we would hold up for a year in a war against F15s, F16s, Apache helicopters, and assassination of leaders.
We do not like the life we are living now, a life full of killed people, victims, mourning and economic distress. But this is necessary in order to achieve independence and a lasting peace.
Q: In Oslo you promised that you would not use force. You broke your promise.
A: For seven years we did keep our promise. We, the Palestinian Authority, Fateh, we didn't shoot. We also tried our best to prevent others from shooting.
Q: Why did you free yourself from your commitment?
A: Because you didn't keep your promises. From '67 until Oslo, the Israelis built 25 thousand houses in the Occupied Territories. From 1993 until 2000, they built even more than 25 thousand homes. What does that say? It says that you Israelis made fun of us. You pulled our leg. You screwed us. You erected settlements under the umbrella of a peace process.
Saeb Erikat and Abu Mazan (Barguti accompanies his words with a movement of hands expressing unequivocal disparagement), used to go to the Israelis to talk to them, just as the Mukthars used to, at the time of the military government. "Could you please release some prisoners? Perhaps you could give up a certain expropriated land? They are complaining, and you, just as then, say, 'We'll study the issue, we'll check, and we'll get back to you.'
Instead of asking why we are shooting, I would have asked why we didn't start shooting earlier. We were too courageous, too strong, too restrained. I have talked a lot to Israelis. I supported peace. Now I say that the only way to talk to you is via the struggle. I am speaking about real struggle, with arms. I don't beat about the bush like others.
Q: What is your opinion on suicide bomber terrorism?
A: We were against it. We saw that its impact on the Israeli public opinion was detrimental to us. But we began a dialogue with Islamic organizations, especially with Hamas and Jihad. My relations with Hamas are especially close. I think we have achieved good results, although we have not yet reached an agreement. We also spoke about the suicide actions. After the Dolphinarium they promised to stop. And then what happened? The Israelis started a series of assassinations. I understood them, when they resumed their attacks. In principle, in my judgment, there is no need for suicide attacks. If we set up an armed struggle in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, that's enough. Jerusalem is an occupied territory. I'm for an armed struggle there.
Q: Why do you believe that you can beat the Israelis?
A: Because the occupation is unjust. That's what weakens the Israelis. Within three to five years you will be convinced that you must give up the Occupied Territories.
A few weeks ago, Yossi Sarid said at a demonstration in Tel Aviv: "The terror factory, called occupation, must be brought to an end." I said to Arafat, "What do you want of me? It was not me who said it. It was Sarid who said it. I didn't say it."
Q: I doubt if what he meant in ending the occupation fit your own concepts?
A: He meant returning to the '67 borders, including evacuating all the settlements. There is no other end to the occupation.
Q: How do you summarize the IDF entering Beit Jala?
A: Sharon put on a show. He did the same in Jenin and Rafah. He wanted to create security, and brought in [Palestinian] mortars. The lesson to be learned is that the Israelis will not resolve the problem with force. Sharon now understands that there is no military way. The more force you use, the weaker you become, politically.
Q: What impact did the [Israeli] withdrawal [in May 2000] from Lebanon have on you?
A: It strengthened us a lot. We said, "Why shouldn't we do the same as the Lebanese. We're no less good than Hizbullah. During discussions within our leadership, people used to tell me, the Israelis might invade, we're afraid. And I said to them, 'What are you afraid of? If the Israelis invade us, they will pay the price. What more can the Israelis do to us? Only nuclear weapons remain. But then we'll go down together. I fully agree to that. There is an Arabic adage that says, 'Shit and its partner -- both go to Hell.'
We will forever be your neighbors, as you will be ours. That's why you need the Intifada: We don't want to break you. We want to break the mentality of the occupation. We want to liberate you.
This interview was conducted by Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea for the Israeli daily paper Yediot Ahronot, 2 September 2001. It was translated from Hebrew and published in the alternative radical monthly Between the Lines, September 2001 based out of Ramallah and Jerusalem. If interested in receiving a trial copy of Between the Lines, send your postal address to: [email protected].