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Thursday, 27 April 2017

Steve Bell’s defence of Ken Livingstone - If... only Jeremy Corbyn had the same courage and clarity

Corbyn’s retreat in the face of Zionism’s False Anti-Semitism Allegations symbolised his appeasement of the Right

It was inevitable that when Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership of the Labour Party that he would face intense opposition.  Unlike the Labour Left, the Right has demonstrated, as Tony Blair has made clear, that it would prefer a Tory victory than a Labour government led by Corbyn.

The phone line must have been busy between the American and Israeli Embassies when Corbyn was elected Labour leader.  British Intelligence must have worked overtime dreaming up dirty tricks.  The idea that someone who opposed the nuclear ‘deterrent’ and wanted out of NATO could be allowed to lead, unchallenged, the second major party in the United Kingdom, America’s major ally in Europe, was unthinkable.

That and that alone is what lies behind the manufactured anti-Semitism crisis that hit the Labour Party.  It is to Corbyn’s shame that not once did he stand up to the bogus anti-Semitism campaign.  There is no excuse.  When he stood for election as leader he himself was accused of working with holocaust denier Paul Eisen. See the Daily Mail’s Jeremy Corbyn's 'long-standing links' with notorious Holocaust denier and his 'anti-Semitic' organisation revealed

Anti-Semitism was seen as the ideal weapon to attack Corbyn because of his previous support of the Palestinians.  In failing to rebut charges of consorting with terrorists (Hamas/Hezbollah) by simply saying that the main terrorists in the region were Israel, not those who fought them, he laid the ground for further attacks.  If he had confronted his critics from the start then they would have been rendered silent.
The failure to purge Labour’s civil service of the Blairites, in particular Iain McNicol, the General Secretary who tried to stop Corbyn even standing for re-election, has been fatally damaging.  When he was re-elected for the second time, it would have been possible then to say that a leader cannot have the head of Labour’s staff plotting against him.  Instead he has remained silent while McNicol has continued with the witch hunt.  Matt Zarb-Cousin, Corbyn’s former press secretary describes how It was very difficult to get Southside [Labour Party Headquarters] to work with us constructively.’  After all, they were too busy leaking stuff to the Tory press! [See Inside Corbyn’s Office, Jacobin]

There was never any substance to the false anti-Semitism allegations as Asa Winstanley demonstrated in a well-researched article. How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis 

In Al Jazeera’s The Lobby we saw how the execrable Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, Joan Ryan, manufactured a false charge of anti-Semitism against a Labour delegate.  We also saw how an Israeli agent, Shai Masot had been busy plotting the downfall of the Israeli government’s enemies in British politics. 

It is therefore refreshing that Steve Bell, the Guardian’s veteran socialist cartoonist, has stood up to the racist anti-Semitic baiters of the Zionist movement and produced a wonderful  If... series of cartoons about Ken Livingstone.  It is a great pity that Corbyn, instead of defending Ken’s right to speak the truth, once again appeased his critics and failed to defend a friend.

Below is the Guardian interview with him and an introduction.  It is well worth reading.  I suggest it should be compulsory reading for Jeremy Corbyn.

Strong feelings, already primed, erupted when Steve Bell used his cartoon strip If… for four days (3-6 April) to attack Labour’s handling of the veteran party member and former London mayor Ken Livingstone.

Bell depicted a kangaroo court trying Livingstone for “mentioning Hitler once too often”. It passed sentence pre-plea “for an offence that isn’t actually an offence”, and furiously denounced the term “kangaroo court” as “a blatantly antisemitic stereotrope”.
Steve Bell - the Guardian's famous cartoonist at work at Labour Party conference 2016
Readers reacted to Livingstone’s remarks, Labour’s handling of him, and Bell’s take on it all. Excerpts will illustrate: “the old left’s tin ear for antisemitism”; “crude use of Jewish pain”; “no other minority has to suffer the calling-out of racism against it being so easily dismissed by people who are not of that minority”; “filth … [Bell] thinks anyone who complains about his Der Stürmer stereotypes … is talking nonsense”.

Some were supportive of Labour or Livingstone or Bell, saw the issue through the prism of Labour’s leadership strife, and were critical of a Guardian editorial which excoriated both Labour and Livingstone.
I compressed the main allegations involving Livingstone/Bell into a series of potential interpretations of his four strips, viewed as a whole, and put them all to Bell. I said this was a topic of great sensitivity, involving a vast weight of historical suffering, and it was best to be clear about intended meanings. The note ended: “As with all famed cartoonists, you have a big share of the freedom of the press and you rightly exercise it vigorously, so this kind of accountability follows.”

I asked Bell to think about it and respond in writing. Here is the result:

Were you defending Ken Livingstone against what you regard as an unfair Labour party process?

I was. The charge of “bringing the Labour party into disrepute” is a kind of indeterminate, catch-all offence that is capable of almost infinite interpretation. It has not been possible to sustain an accusation of antisemitism, since Ken Livingstone was not guilty of it. He could conceivably be open to the charge of insensitivity, but this does not warrant expulsion from the party. He had already been suspended from membership for over a year, which automatically cost him his place on Labour’s National Executive Committee. He was also subject to a vitriolic campaign of vilification across all media, beginning with John Mann’s slanderous description, on air, of him as a “racist” and a “Nazi apologist”. Mann was initially suspended from the party at the same time as Livingstone since his actions could just as legitimately be seen as bringing the Labour party into disrepute as Livingstone’s words, but Mann’s suspension was soon lifted. This demonstrates a lack of balance.

Were you defending Ken Livingstone against a charge that he brought the Labour party into disrepute by saying that Hitler was supporting Zionism before the Holocaust?

I was. He was arguing in defence of the Labour MP Naz Shah against charges of antisemitism that had been brought against her in relation to a joke that she had retweeted some time before she became an MP. Though his defence proved to be spectacularly ineffective and Naz Shah has since apologised for her inappropriate use of the words “the Jews” in a later tweet, I would say that if Ken Livingstone brought anyone into disrepute it was himself rather than the Labour party by unwisely introducing Hitler and the Nazis into a discussion of Zionism and contemporary antisemitism. At the moment the Labour party brings itself into disrepute very effectively every day in almost every way possible without Ken Livingstone’s help.

Were you defending Ken Livingstone against a charge that he was being antisemitic when he said that Hitler was supporting Zionism before the Holocaust?

I was. Ken Livingstone was talking about the narrowly defined actions and activities of parts of the Zionist movement in the 1930s that made the foundation of a Jewish state in the territory of Palestine its absolute priority. To question that aim does not constitute antisemitism.

Were you criticising the view that it is antisemitic to suggest that the suffering of Jews under the Nazis is somehow less deserving of empathy because a proportion of the Jews who left Germany under Nazi policies during the 1930s went to Palestine where Zionists later established the State of Israel?

This question is difficult to answer, since it confuses two separate issues, so I will try and untangle it: no one could possibly argue that the suffering of the Jews under the Nazis is somehow less deserving of empathy. If one did try and argue that point one would certainly be guilty of antisemitism. I don’t believe Ken Livingstone has ever attempted to make any such argument, or try and justify it with such a reason as “because a proportion of the Jews who left Germany under Nazi policies during the 1930s went to Palestine where Zionists later established the State of Israel”. I would never have supported him if he had.

Were you criticising the view that it is a misreading of history to suggest that Jews were somehow beneficiaries of, rather than victims of, Nazi government policies during the 1930s to remove Jews from Germany?
It certainly would be a misreading of history to suggest that Jews were somehow beneficiaries of Nazi government policies during the 1930s. The fact of negotiations between some Zionists and the Nazi government at the time is a separate issue. Attempting to suppress or deflect discussion of that issue with specious charges of antisemitism does not serve the cause of historical accuracy.

Were you taking issue with the term “antisemitic trope”?

I was. As you know I have a bit of history with your predecessor who upheld a charge against me of using “antisemitic tropes”. I don’t wish to go over the whole thing except to reassert that a trope needs to be antisemitic to be an “antisemitic trope”, and that my depiction of Netanyahu with a glove puppet of William Hague on one hand and Tony Blair on the other did not qualify. In the cartoon strip the use of the term “kangaroo court” is plainly not an “antisemitic trope” (or “stereotrope” as I brutally caricature the term). I believe that the charge of antisemitism is, and should be, a very serious one. Accusing someone of using “antisemitic tropes” is a kind of half-baked way of calling them an antisemite. It devalues and debases the term.

Were you being consciously antisemitic, that is, expressing hostility and prejudice towards Jews?

No, I am neither a conscious nor an unconscious antisemite. I am hostile to the idea of an entire population being held captive for 50 years in a stateless limbo. I have great sympathy for any people, no matter what their colour or creed, who are forced to live in such circumstances. The problem with all arguments around the question of Zionism is that, in current circumstances in the Middle East, it has less to do with race or religion and much more to do with land. It would be foolish to elevate or dignify one side’s claim, or indeed one side’s hatred, over another’s.
Since the charge of antisemitism is such a grave one, inappropriate use of the term is too often used to stifle debate around, for example, the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, one of the few non-violent ways open to inhabitants of the occupied territories and their supporters to challenge the oppressive actions of successive Israeli governments. In the long run this cannot help the cause of peace.        

Farewell Comrade Willem Johannes Meijs 12th April 1941—21st March 2017

Willem Meijs - A friend and fighter for Palestine and a better world

On 21st March, Willem Meijs, the husband of my dear friend Sue Blackwell, passed away in a hospice in the Dutch town of Hoorn.  Six days later I made my first foreign trip since having a liver transplant 18 months ago to pay my respects to Willem.  A decade ago I had broken off my holiday in Normandy to go to their wedding.  The time seemed to pass too quickly.

Willem was first and foremost an activist in the wider Palestine solidarity movement and a fighter for the oppressed and downtrodden of this world.  Sue, who initiated the academic boycott in Britain, found a partner who shared her passion for justice.  Willem was also great company.
Willem was  the heart and soul of our alternative choir at the Albert Hall some years ago when an alternative performance was given to the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra at the Proms.  For the first time ever Radio 3 took the Proms off air rather than allow its listeners to hear peoples’ outrage at the visit of Israel’s musical ambassadors.

At the reception held afterwards I said a few words and read out a tribute from Debbie Fink, a member of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods, who was unable to be at the funeral.  Also below is a tribute from Naomi Wimborne-Iddrissi, who was also unable to attend.

From Debbie Fink, of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods:

I am sorry not to be here with you all today.

I knew Willem for over ten years through Sue and their involvement in the Palestine Solidarity movement. I have many fond memories of him. Sue & Willem treated me like family, particularly when I stayed with them in Hoorn in 2012 after their fifth wedding anniversary and in Clare, Suffolk, their other home, in 2015. They were very hospitable and took me on sightseeing tours in both places and we shared many tasty meals.

They also stayed at my place, one notable occasion being after we had disrupted the Israel Philarmonic Orchestra as part of the uninvited choir at the Royal Albert Hall, with Sue's parody of Ode to Joy- Ode to Boycott. We had each carried a letter in spelling 'Free Palestine'. Apparently Willem held his letter up the wrong way! We stayed up most of the night, watching Sue send off news releases, & went out for a hearty brunch the next day.
Willem on a demonstration in Amsterdam on 3rd January 2009 against the bombing of Gaza in Operation Cast Lead
Prior to this historical occasion, we recorded a longer version of 'Ode to Boycott' in my flat to be posted on YouTube: Willem singing the tenor line, Sue & Naomi sharing the alto line and myself on soprano.

This was not the only recording we made in my flat. A few years later, Willem and I recorded another parody of Sue's: 'End Apartheid', to the tune of 'Nessum Dorma' by Puccini which we had sung at a demonstration against UEFA, pleading that the finals would not be staged in Israel.

I also spent time with them in their house in Southall and on Boycott Israel Network conferences. At one of these, Willem wrote out the words to 'On the Street where you live' which he had played a recording of him singing, as I was planning to sing it to a man I liked! He called it 'The stalking song from My Fair Lady'.

Sue and Willem were a double act. I will miss his humour, his voice and contribution to the Palestine solidarity movement.
A fond farewell - from Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
I must apologise most humbly for not being with Sue and Willem’s other loving family and friends to say farewell to the most genial and supportive of comrades.

I’m pretty confident that Willem would have accepted my excuses – no doubt with a wink and an affectionate reprimand - if I were able to communicate with him about the reason for my absence. For some weeks now, a number of us have been hard at work on a major project to expose attempts to demonise us all simply for trying to call Israel to account for its injustices against Palestinians. Sod’s law has come into play, and this project is being launched publicly on this very day, March 27, in London. News of it should emerge while you are all gathered in Hoorn in Willem’s honour.

Not only did Willem devote himself to supporting Sue in her tireless campaigning efforts. He too put his shoulder to the wheel and applied his talents when called upon.
This was taken at the Boycott Israel Network Conference 2011 where the protest at the Prom against the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra was re-enacted
Most famously, he joined Sue and me and Deborah in performing Sue’s alternative wording for Beethoven’s great “Ode to Joy” as our highbrow contribution to protests at London’s celebrated Royal Albert Hall in September 2011. The occasion was a promenade concert by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra,acting as a cultural ambassador for the state of Israel. This attracted protests outside the hall and also within, where more than 30 of us deployed ourselves with military precision.
Sue’s “Ode to Joy” rang out from high up in the choir stalls early in the concert, followed by other interruptions later on,  taking the BBC’s radio broadcast off the air the first time in the 75 year history of the Proms and making headline news around the world.

Separately we recorded ourselves singing in three-part harmony - Debbie the soprano, Sue and I altos and Willem the tenor.

It made me smile while preparing this message to hear his voice and see his name on the YouTube clip that he uploaded proudly after the event.
This was taken at the Boycott Israel Network Conference 2011 where the protest at the Prom against the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra was re-enacted
He and Debbie performed together again at another protest, in June 2013, braving unseasonably wet and windy weather to sing another one of Sue’s parodies to the tune of NessumDorma, outside a Park Lane hotel where European football’s governing body UEFA was meeting. This time the issue was UEFA’s decision to hold its under-21 men’s football final in Israel, in defiance of the Palestinian boycott.
Willem and Debbie performing outside a Park Lane hotel where UEFA was meeting. 
It is desperately sad to have to say farewell to Willem long before he should have left us.

Ik ben ontzettend trots om hem als  vriend te kunnen noemen.

Veel liefs,


Below are a series of photos that were taken after the funeral in Willem's home town of Hoorn

Hoorn's harbour

Hoorn's harbour

statues sitting on harbour wall

Sue and her daughter Jazwinder
Dennis and Tony Greenstein 

Dennis from Cambridge PSC, Sue and Jaz

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Full Support to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Hunger Strike

Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian Mandela, on why the prisoners have no other option

On April 16th 700 Palestinian prisoners began a hunger strike.  Israel reacted in the way that you would expect a State of Terror to react.  It declared that the hunger strike, a weapon of last resort used by prisoners the world over to fight against their jailers, was an act of ‘terrorism’.  This comes from a State which butchered 2,200 Palestinians in Gaza two years ago when the latest F-I5 airplanes unleashed high explosive missiles at schools, clinics, hospitals and above all peoples’ homes.

But ‘terrorism’ in the world of Trump and May is never perpetrated by states unless those states have fallen out of favour with the West.  The actions of Israel and the United States, however horrific are ‘peace making’, proportionate and designed to quell terror.  The bombing of civilians is an accident, collateral damage to use the jargon.

Palestinian prisoners are incarcerated for most of their natural lives in horrific conditions, denied access to contact with the outside world, mobile phones or the most minimal conditions that a civilised society accords to those incarcerated.  Their only crime has been the international law recognised right of opposition to a military regime.  Most Palestinian prisoners were convicted in Military Courts that have a conviction rate of 99.7%. 
Marwan Barghouti
The leader Marwan Barghouti was convicted in an Israeli court which he refused to recognise.  Israel is a colonial power and it metes out colonial justice.  Barghouti is accused of killing Israeli soldiers.  Even were this is true then that is not a crime.  Resistance to an occupying power is never a crime.  The treatment of Barghouti contrasts with that of Israeli soldiers who kill.  On the rare occasion that they are convicted, then like Elor Azaria, who was recently convicted of manslaughter, not murder, for shooting a prone Palestinian prisoner in the head at short range, he received 18 months imprisonment, most of which he will never serve.

Israel's accusation that Marwan Barghouti is a 'terrorist' should carry as much weight as Apartheid South Africa's accusation that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist.  It is the accusation that was levelled by Britain against all Africa's colonial leaders, from Nkrumah to Kenyatta.  European colonial powers who were bathed in blood always characterised their opponents as 'terrorists'.  The Nazis too described armed opposition from the Serbs, Greeks and others as coming from terrorism so Israel's charges should carry just about as much weight as their Nazi predecessors.

Below are 3 articles including one in the New York Times by Marwan Barghouti.  Needless to say Israel’s defenders in the United States screamed about the fact that he was able to present the prisoners views.  So the NYT added at the end a short postscript about the fact that Marwan had been convicted of 5 counts of murder and belonging to a ‘terrorist organisation’.  Suffice to say that belonging to the main terrorist organisation in Israel, the Israeli Army, is not a crime.

Tony Greenstein
Palestinian boys take part in a rally in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, in the West Bank city of Nablus, 20 April.  Ayman Ameen APA images
Thousands of Palestinian prisoners have threatened hunger strike over past several weeks in campaign spearheaded by imprisoned Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti
Yaniv Kubovich and Jack Khoury 
Ha'aretz Apr 17, 2017 9:27 AM

700 Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israel announced the start of a indefinite hunger strike in prisons on Sunday, according to a statement released by Israel's Prison Service. Imprisoned Fatah official Marwan Barghouti spearheaded the campaign, though Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners held at Hadarim prison will join the campaign largely associated with Fatah.

The hunger strike is expected to expand Monday morning, with over 2,000 prisoners participating. Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced his support of the strike, as did leaders of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Qadura Fares, director of the Palestinian Prisoners Club and an ally of Barghouti, told Haaretz that the Prisoners Club, the prisoners and their families will work to bring the prisoners' cause to the forefront over the next few days. According to Fares, Israel could have prevented the hunger strike had it entered into real negotiations with the prisoners and not ignored the situation.

Nearly 2,900 Palestinian prisoners jailed in Israel and affiliated with Fatah have threatened to launch a hunger strike over the past several weeks. Barghouti, the campaign's organizer, has often been floated as a possible successor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The fate of more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel, whose number has grown considerably in the past 18 months due to the wave of stabbing and car-ramming attacks (the “lone-wolf intifada”), affects nearly every family in the territories. A hunger strike, if it is widely observed and well managed, could immediately turn up the heat in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. If down the road a threat to the strikers’ lives develops, it could lead to another wave of violence.

The April 17 date was originally chosen with an eye on the start of Ramadan, which is toward the end of May. A full hunger strike during Ramadan, when Palestinians fast by day and break their fasts at night, could be religiously problematic. Setting a potential strike period of a little over a month will allow the struggle against Israel to escalate, but also limits it in time so as to prevent a total loss of control. It also marks the annual Palestinian prisoners day anniversary.

According to the Israel Prison Service regulations, it is an offense for a prisoner to refuse his or her meal and the striking prisoners will be subect to disciplniary measures accordingly. "Prisoners who decide to [hunger] strike will face serious consequences," the Prison Service said in a statement. "Strikes and protests are illegal activities and will face unwavering penalization." The statement added that "In accordance with the policy set by the minister of public security, the Prison Service does not negotiate with the prisoners."

The prisoners drafted a list of demands approximately two weeks ago, which includes the revoking of detention without trial and solitary confinement. The hunger strikers also demand the reinstatement of a number of rights that had been revoked, in addition to demanding the installation of a pay phone in each wing, more frequent family visits and the possibility of being photographed with family members during visits.

MK Dr. Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) called on the government to meet the prisoners' demands. "The prisoners agree to have their calls monitored by the Prison Service, so that the alleged security reasons given by the Prison Service and the Shin Bet against installing telephones are void." He said. "Israel is holding prisoners within its territory, breaching the rules of the Fourth Geneva Convention. One of the immediate circumstances of this violation is a perpetual difficulty with family visits to the prison. The delivery of mail is also limited and hardly takes place. Keeping in touch with one's family is an essential matter for every

Last year, about 260 Hamas prisoners went on hunger strike for two days in response to the Prison Service dispersing the wings in which they were imprisoned, while 40 Prisoners of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) went on hunger strike in solidarity with the administrative detainee Bilal Kaed, who had been in captivity for 70 days.

Peter Beinart, Forward, April 19 2017

In the April 16 New York Times, Marwan Barghouti announced that he and 1,000 other Palestinian prisoners were launching a hunger strike. It’s easy to understand why.

West Bank Palestinians are colonial subjects. Even though the Palestinian Authority has some power, it is not a state, and the Israeli military can freely enter the West Bank and arrest anyone anytime it wants. The prisoners now refusing food were mostly tried in military courts where proving your innocence is nearly impossible. As the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem noted in 2015, “A Palestinian charged in a military court is as good as convicted.”

Israeli officials, and their American Jewish allies, responded to Barghouti’s op-ed with fury. The reason: Initially, The Times did not say why Barghouti sits in an Israeli prison. (It appended the information later). He was convicted in 2002 — in a civilian court not a military one — of murder. Thus, Deputy Minister for Diplomacy Michael Oren tweeted, Barghouti is not the Palestinian Nelson Mandela, as he’s sometimes described. He’s actually the “Palestinian Dylann Roof.”

Oren’s implication is clear: Because Barghouti was convicted of terrorism, his cause is illegitimate, even monstrous. The problem with this argument is that it doesn’t only explain why Marwan Barghouti isn’t Nelson Mandela. It explains why Nelson Mandela isn’t Nelson Mandela either.

Barghouti denies the specific charges on which he was convicted. (He did not defend himself on the grounds that the proceedings were illegitimate). But at the time of his trial, he did support violence. A decade earlier, when the Oslo Peace Process began, he had declared the era of military resistance over. “The armed struggle,” he claimed in 1994, “is no longer an option for us.

But when Israel kept entrenching its control of the West Bank during the Oslo years, Barghouti changed his mind. “How would you feel if on every hill in territory that belongs to you a new settlement would spring up? he declared. “I reached a simple conclusion. You [Israel] don’t want to end the occupation and you don’t want to stop the settlements, so the only way to convince you is by force.”

Barghouti’s shift, which led him to play an active role in the second intifada, constituted a tragic mistake, even a crime, against both Palestinians and Israelis. I’m not justifying it. But he’s not the only national leader to have embraced armed struggle after losing faith in non-violence. Mandela did too.

For a half-century following its birth in 1912, the African National Congress practiced peaceful resistance to white rule. That resistance culminated in 1952 in a “defiance campaign” — partly inspired by Gandhi — consisting of mass protests, boycotts and strikes. When South Africa’s newly elected government responded with even harsher apartheid laws, however, Mandela demanded a different strategy.

As detailed in the book, “The Road to Democracy in South Africa”, Mandela began advocating armed resistance in 1953, and was reprimanded by ANC leaders. But when South African police murdered 69 protesters in the township of Sharpeville in 1960, and its government declared the ANC illegal, Mandela began pressing his case more aggressively. He met substantial internal resistance, especially from longtime ANC leader Albert Luthuli, who found it awkward that the ANC was considering violence when he had just won the Nobel Peace Prize. Still, Mandela, backed by other young militants, won the day.
One can imagine how Oren might describe Mandela’s actions today. Mandela did not merely support violence. In 1961 he became the head of the ANC’s new military wing, and began receiving funds from the Soviet Union. At the famed 1963 Rivonia trial, he was convicted of “recruiting persons for training in the preparation and use of explosives and in guerrilla warfare for the purpose of violent revolution and committing acts of sabotage,” as well as of supporting communism.

Was Mandela a terrorist? The U.S. government thought so. As late as the 1980s, it still classified the ANC as a terrorist group.

A critic might object that the circumstances under which Mandela and Barghouti turned to violence were different. Mandela argued for it in the early 1960s, after the South African government declared the ANC illegal. Barghouti advocated it in the early 2000s, after Israel had accepted the PLO as a legitimate negotiating partner.

The problem with this distinction is that Mandela kept supporting violence even when South Africa’s government grew more conciliatory. Six different times the authorities in Pretoria offered to release Mandela from prison if he accepted conditions including the renunciation of violence. Six times he refused. When President P.W. Botha asked him to renounce violence in 1985, Mandela shot back, “Let him renounce violence.”

A year later, the ANC detonated a bomb that killed three, and injured 69, at a bar in Durban. It did not suspend its armed struggle until after Mandela was released unconditionally from jail.
Israel isn’t the equivalent of apartheid South Africa. Inside the green line, where Palestinians enjoy Israeli citizenship and the right to vote, it certainly is not. Nor am I claiming that Barghouti is Mandela’s equal. After leaving prison, Mandela brilliantly stewarded South Africa toward reconciliation. Barghouti, by contrast, remains an enigma. He has long supported the two-state solution. But who knows what he would do as a free man?

My argument isn’t really about Barghouti at all. It’s that acts of violence, even horrific violence, don’t necessarily invalidate the cause of the people who commit them. America firebombed Dresden and dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; World War II was still a just war. In 1938, Irgun leader David Raziel detonated bombs in Haifa’s Arab Market, killing 21 people. His crimes didn’t invalidate the struggle for a Jewish state. (Oren’s government certainly doesn’t think so; Raziel’s face adorns an Israeli postage stamp).

Palestinians deserve to be citizens, not subjects. And against an Israeli government that rejects a Palestinian state near the 1967 lines, and every day entrenches its brutal and undemocratic control of the West Bank, Barghouti and his colleagues have the right to resist. I’m glad that they’ve chosen a hunger strike, which inflicts violence only upon themselves. I hope they never take up arms again. But to the extent that they still desire what Barghouti demanded the year he was convicted — “the end of the occupation” and “peaceful coexistence” between Palestinians and Jews — their cause is just.

I was called a terrorist yesterday,” Mandela once said, “but when I came out of jail, many people embraced me, including my enemies, and that is what I normally tell other people who say those who are struggling for liberation in their country are terrorists.”

Do you hear that, Michael Oren? He’s talking to you.

Peter Beinart is a Forward senior columnist and contributing editor. Listen to his podcast, Fault Lines with Daniel Gordis here or on iTunes.

The Opinion Pages New York Times Op-Ed Contributor

Photos of prisoners during a demonstration demanding the release of the Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, in Ramallah, West Bank, this month. Credit Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images
HADARIM PRISON, Israel — Having spent the last 15 years in an Israeli prison, I have been both a witness to and a victim of Israel’s illegal system of mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. After exhausting all other options, I decided there was no choice but to resist these abuses by going on a hunger strike.

Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to take part in this hunger strike, which begins today, the day we observe here as Prisoners’ Day. Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells.

Decades of experience have proved that Israel’s inhumane system of colonial and military occupation aims to break the spirit of prisoners and the nation to which they belong, by inflicting suffering on their bodies, separating them from their families and communities, using humiliating measures to compel subjugation. In spite of such treatment, we will not surrender to it.

Israel, the occupying power, has violated international law in multiple ways for nearly 70 years, and yet has been granted impunity for its actions. It has committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions against the Palestinian people; the prisoners, including men, women and children, are no exception.

I was only 15 when I was first imprisoned. I was barely 18 when an Israeli interrogator forced me to spread my legs while I stood naked in the interrogation room, before hitting my genitals. I passed out from the pain, and the resulting fall left an everlasting scar on my forehead. The interrogator mocked me afterward, saying that I would never procreate because people like me give birth only to terrorists and murderers.

A few years later, I was again in an Israeli prison, leading a hunger strike, when my first son was born. Instead of the sweets we usually distribute to celebrate such news, I handed out salt to the other prisoners. When he was barely 18, he in turn was arrested and spent four years in Israeli prisons.
The eldest of my four children is now a man of 31. Yet here I still am, pursuing this struggle for freedom along with thousands of prisoners, millions of Palestinians and the support of so many around the world. What is it with the arrogance of the occupier and the oppressor and their backers that makes them deaf to this simple truth: Our chains will be broken before we are, because it is human nature to heed the call for freedom regardless of the cost.

Israel has built nearly all of its prisons inside Israel rather than in the occupied territory. In doing so, it has unlawfully and forcibly transferred Palestinian civilians into captivity, and has used this situation to restrict family visits and to inflict suffering on prisoners through long transports under cruel conditions. It turned basic rights that should be guaranteed under international law — including some painfully secured through previous hunger strikes — into privileges its prison service decides to grant us or deprive us of.

Palestinian prisoners and detainees have suffered from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence. Some have been killed while in detention. According to the latest count from the Palestinian Prisoners Club, about 200 Palestinian prisoners have died since 1967 because of such actions. Palestinian prisoners and their families also remain a primary target of Israel’s policy of imposing collective punishments.

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Through our hunger strike, we seek an end to these abuses.

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. Today, about 6,500 are still imprisoned, among them some who have the dismal distinction of holding world records for the longest periods in detention of political prisoners. There is hardly a single family in Palestine that has not endured the suffering caused by the imprisonment of one or several of its members.

How to account for this unbelievable state of affairs?

Israel has established a dual legal regime, a form of judicial apartheid, that provides virtual impunity for Israelis who commit crimes against Palestinians, while criminalizing Palestinian presence and resistance. Israel’s courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation. According to the State Department, the conviction rate for Palestinians in the military courts is nearly 90 percent.

Among the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whom Israel has taken captive are children, women, parliamentarians, activists, journalists, human rights defenders, academics, political figures, militants, bystanders, family members of prisoners. And all with one aim: to bury the legitimate aspirations of an entire nation.

Instead, though, Israel’s prisons have become the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination. This new hunger strike will demonstrate once more that the prisoners’ movement is the compass that guides our struggle, the struggle for Freedom and Dignity, the name we have chosen for this new step in our long walk to freedom.

Israel has tried to brand us all as terrorists to legitimize its violations, including mass arbitrary arrests, torture, punitive measures and severe restrictions. As part of Israel’s effort to undermine the Palestinian struggle for freedom, an Israeli court sentenced me to five life sentences and 40 years in prison in a political show trial that was denounced by international observers.

Israel is not the first occupying or colonial power to resort to such expedients. Every national liberation movement in history can recall similar practices. This is why so many people who have fought against oppression, colonialism and apartheid stand with us. The International Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti and All Palestinian Prisoners that the anti-apartheid icon Ahmed Kathrada and my wife, Fadwa, inaugurated in 2013 from Nelson Mandela’s former cell on Robben Island has enjoyed the support of eight Nobel Peace Prize laureates, 120 governments and hundreds of leaders, parliamentarians, artists and academics around the world.

Their solidarity exposes Israel’s moral and political failure. Rights are not bestowed by an oppressor. Freedom and dignity are universal rights that are inherent in humanity, to be enjoyed by every nation and all human beings. Palestinians will not be an exception. Only ending occupation will end this injustice and mark the birth of peace.

Editors’ Note: April 17, 2017

This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy.
Marwan Barghouti is a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.

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