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Barghouti's wife: Palestinian prisoners paid the price of Israeli deception

Fadwa Barghouti, a Palestinian lawyer and the wife of Fatah member and prisoner Marwan Barghouti, says that she hopes that the opportunity to release her husband will not be missed as it was during the first prisoner exchange deal in exchange for Israeli solider Gilad Shalit.

Barghouti, also known as Umm Qasem, insists; "Since the beginning of his imprisonment, I knew that there were only two ways that he could be released. I am afraid that the first way is a lost cause as he was not part of the prisoner exchange deal for Gilad Shalit. Israel does not want to release him because it wants to teach the Palestinians a lesson by keeping him in prison. Let's hope it is not two late for the second approach."

In an interview she held with Al-Ghad newspaper in Amman two days ago Barghouti said; "The strategy that Palestinians previously used to deal with this issue was not feasible, especially in regards to Oslo, which was a huge mistake because it placed the Palestinians within the iron grip of the Israeli occupation. They believed that releasing the prisoners was a given outcome to the peace agreement. It's been 20 years and we are still waiting for our prisoners to be freed in four instalments. The Palestinian prisoners paid the ultimate price for the Israeli negotiators' deception."

Barghouti, a member of Fatah's revolutionary council, views that "Israel's intransigence towards this issue was clear from the onset. It is through this issue that Israel continues to humiliate not only the Palestinians but also Arabs in general.

"Israel has been using the impact that this issue has on Palestinian families to its advantage and this is particularly true because it knows that releasing the prisoners is a priority for the Palestinian people. Israel wants to bring down the morale of the Palestinian people and intimidate future generations by way of the prisoner's bitter experience.

"The politics of political arrests will not affect the Palestinian people. In fact, every Palestinian now believes that fighting for prisoner rights is his or her responsibility and it will remain the responsibility of future generations to come," Barghouti asserted.

"Palestinians now know that our previous strategy was wrong and they now understand that the prisoner issue is not one of good will or one that can be given the benefit of the doubt. It must be achieved and Israel must achieve it."

She continued to ask herself along with many other Palestinians, "If this is what Israel has done with the prisoner issue, then what about Jerusalem? What about the refugees?"

Today, the Palestinian leadership has realised that the issue of prisoners "can never be an outcome of the negotiations but it must be achieved as an independent goal". This is also the case with most factions.

Barghouti explained that President Mahmoud Abbas has now devised a new strategy "that will progress the Palestinian prisoner issue strongly". Abbas has placed this file on the table "and despite our hesitance towards this, it should be mentioned that this issue cannot remain a part of the current political phase but there must be both a national plan and a regional Arab plan to move this issue forward and keep it alive."

She considers Kerry's decision to extend the negotiations as "unfeasible" and asks that the Palestinians be offered something that will change their reality on the ground "because they are no longer capable of being patient".

In regards to suggestion that the prisoners will be released if the negotiations are extended Barghouti said; "an extension is not a feasible option because until now we have not attained anything worthwhile from the negotiations and if we do not gain anything from an extension, the consequences will be severe because the Palestinian people can no longer be patient."

Barghouti emphasised that all Palestinians can empathise with the prisoner issue because more than 800,000 prisoners have been arrested since 1967, which means that there is no family that has not had at least one or two members arrested.

"Prior to my husband Marwan's arrest, I was like many other Palestinians in the sense that I empathised and stood in solidarity with the cause. However, after his arrest along with thousands of others 12 years ago, I devoted myself entirely to this cause. I launched a grassroots movement demanding the release of Marwan Barghouti and all other prisoners. I devote myself entirely to this issue and my goal is to not let it fall victim to Israel's intransigence.

"We began by taking this issue to international parliaments seeing as Marwan is a member of parliament himself. We quickly realised how challenging it would be to advocate for this issue because Israel has successfully convinced many that the Palestinian prisoner file is an issue that threatens its security on the international level. Yet, we remained strong and refused to give up. We visited more than 50 countries in 12 years and we argued that Marwan's arrest is a precedent and that soon, Israel will continue to arrest parliamentarians, which is a serious issue," Barghouti added.

"In reality Israel has arrested more 50 Palestinian parliamentary members as a result of the international community's silence over Marwan Barghouti's arrest," pointing out that Marwan was the president of the Parliamentary French-Palestinian Friendship Association and this is what prompted the French parliament to launch a campaign in solidarity with him. In 2002, Fadwa Barghouti began visiting European parliaments and in 2009 the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the arrest of parliamentary members and subsequently demanded Barghouti's release. In 2012, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the arrest and detainment of political representatives.

Barghouti pointed out that in the Freedom and Dignity conference convened in Ramallah in 2012 was a turning point for the campaign. The keynote speaker at the conference was notable South African figure, Ahmed Kathrada, who was late President Nelson Mandela's former cellmate. Six months after the conference was held, a global campaign began in South Africa demanding the release of Marwan Barghouti and for the first time in South Africa's history, Marwan Barghouti's picture was displayed next to Nelson Mandela's picture in the cell he shared with Kathrada.

Barghouti stressed that "Marwan is a first-class politician" and that his arrest has had a negative impact on the streets. As a result of Barghouti's arrest the Palestinian youth's morale has declined and less are willing to engage in uprisings or revolutionary activity because they saw Marwan Barghouti's trial in a military court, which was broadcast internationally. Many saw as Israel accused Marwan of unifying a number of military battalions and organisations and falsely accused him of being a terrorist and a criminal.

"It comes as no surprise that Barghouti poses a threat to Israel seeing as how he has always been an advocate for national unity. Israel fears his presence in Palestinian streets and they know very well that his absence will further deepen national divisions. Israel also knows that Barghouti's release would be an asset to Fatah."

On her experience as a prisoner's wife, Barghouti explained, "It is not easy for any woman, no matter how strong she is, to be away from her husband and it is not easy for her to have to face her children's daily questions about their father. Why was he arrested and when will he be released? These types of questions are a huge burden for a mother to bear and they cause me much anxiety. It is here that I must emphasise that although the question of prisoners is political, it also has a human dimension, one that affects a mother, the family and the community as well.

"Many people think I am strong because I refuse to show how weak I am in front of people and in front of my kids as well. However, when I close my door and I am alone, only then do the true depths of my weakness come out," she added.

In regards to her visits to her husband she said: "For the first four years of his arrest I was not allowed to visit him because he was in solitary confinement. My children were not allowed to visit him either because they were older than 16 and younger than 40. This is the age group that Israel considers a security threat."

Barghouti stressed that, "Marwan's morale remains high. He never feels anything contrary to that which he portrays to his visitors. Yes, in the end he is a human being and freedom is his dream, but his national message is much bigger than that."

Prior to this 12 year imprisonment, Marwan Barghouti was detained for seven years. His wife points out that he is able to bear this burden for the sake of the Palestinian youth, as this is the generation he struggled for and continues to struggle for along with anyone who has ever fought for Palestinian rights.

Fadwa Barghouti noted that her husband is able to overcome the hardships of his detention through reading. He often reads an average of six to eight books per month and he focuses mostly on international scholarly publications, Palestinian and Israeli newspapers and keeps up with what is happening in the world.

In regards to female political prisoners, she emphasises that their arrests are an extension of the Palestinian woman's struggle. Yet, Barghouti also noted that these women undergo harsh conditions in their detention centres and that their conditions are very sensitive. Female prisoners undergo unbearable torture and humiliating searches. Israel uses these inspections and searches as a way to humiliate Palestinian women.

Barghouti said Israel's arrest of Palestinian children has become a wide ranging phenomenon. A large percentage of those who have recently been detained are under the age of 18. More than 300 detainees are under the age of 16.

Barghouti added: "Israel is betting that this will have them increase the number of Palestinians willing to cooperate with them. They hope to influence children's minds but I am more than confident that they will not succeed and that many families will be able to overcome this challenge."

In regards to reviving the Palestinian cause, Barghouti stressed that the media has a huge responsibility in placing this cause at the forefront of regional politics; however, Palestine is unfortunately no longer the primary concern of the Arab people. She added that with the internal struggles facing each country, Palestine is now on the back burner and is not a main concern for many of these countries. Barghouti emphasised her sense of concern that future generations will not know who their true enemy is.

Barghouti deemed the death of the Jordanian Judge, Raed Al-Zataari "a big disaster and a new political precedent that will facilitate Israel's killings of Jordanians on the bridge if this action is not met with a serious Jordanian reaction. However, I am confident that the killer will be punished."

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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