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Barghouti: Palestinian Terrorist or the Next Mandela?

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The Palestinian political divide -- Fatah ruling West Bank, Hamas controlling Gaza -- is one of the reasons the Israeli government and public have shown very little enthusiasm to get back to the negotiating table.

Fatah and Hamas have different agendas and political goals. As long as the Palestinians are not presenting a united front then the two-state solution becomes improbable, and for many Israelis that means peace negotiations are pointless.

Marwan Barghouti is considered by many Palestinians as the only political leader who can unite the Hamas with Fatah, and recreate a united Palestinian government.

Barghouti has been in Israeli prison since 2002, serving five life sentences for involvement in terrorist activities. As a Fatah man, Ramallah-native Barghouti sat around the negotiation table with Israel in the 90's. After the collapse of the talks, he was one of leaders of the Second Intifada.

Barghouti has always been a vocal supporter of reaching a compromise with Israel. He adopted the armed struggle after being disappointed by the continuing Israeli occupation, and this made him a popular leader also amongst Fatah and Hamas crowds in the West Bank and in Gaza.

Barghouti's popularity amongst Palestinians only grew since he was arrested by the Israeli military on April 15th 2002. He was convicted of organizing suicide attacks that murdered twenty-one Israelis, and sentenced to five life sentences, which he is serving in Hasharon Prison, 20 km north of Tel Aviv.

This video report -- made for VJM -- investigates who is Marwan Barghouti, and could he really be a key player in Middle East conflict if he's released from prison.

On a personal note -- preparing this story provided me with the rare opportunity to enter for the first time "Area A" of the West Bank, which is controlled by Palestinian security forces (West Bank's area B and C are under Israeli security control).

The interview with Fatah politician Qadura Fares was filmed in his office in Ramallah. Israeli Jews have stopped visiting Ramallah since the Second Intifada, but journalists are allowed to enter at their own risk. I had never been to the city, and have never before interviewed -- or talked with -- a Palestinian from the West Bank.

The night before the interview I couldn't avoid being afraid. Entering a Palestinian city felt like going into an unknown and dangerous place, never mind that I have been living all my life less than 50 kilometers away.

The trip went smoothly. I drove in through Qalandya Checkpoint, met Mr. Fares's driver in the outskirts of Ramallah, and followed him to the office that was near the center of the city.

Fares himself was very hospitable and spoke fluent Hebrew (which he learned in Israeli prison). After the interview, even though I was not in a hurry, I preferred to directly drive back to Jerusalem instead of eating my first ever Palestinian falafel. I was scared to walk the streets and interact with the locals. Maybe next time...

Links:
The Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti
Interview with Marwan Barghouti, January 2006
Barghouti indicted for murder, Haaretz, 15.08.2002

* The interview and the visuals from Gaza were shot by Nasser Najjar -- a VJM reporter, Palestinian who is living in Gaza -- with whom I collaborate periodically. I could not shoot the interview myself because (since 2006) it is illegal and forbidden for Israeli journalists to enter the Gaza Strip.