TEL AVIV – Fatah leader and imprisoned terrorist Marwan Barghouti may be prohibited from meeting with his lawyers if they are found to have helped smuggle his op-ed to the New York Times, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on Tuesday.
“I absolutely view the publication of the column as a grave incident, and I ordered the Prisons Service to investigate and send me their findings,” Erdan told Army Radio, adding that it is still not clear how Barghouti was able to submit the op-ed from prison.
Erdan added that if the article “was leaked by his lawyers, we need to draw conclusions, just as we did when [former Joint List] MK [Basel] Ghattas was caught smuggling phones [to convicted terrorists in prison], and that led to the end of the bizarre phenomenon of MKs visiting security prisoners.”
Barghouti is serving five life terms plus 40 years for being an architect of the Second Intifada, and on five counts of murder including a Greek Orthodox monk.
Barghouti penned the article to explain why he had launched a hunger strike among Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, declaring abuse by prison guards, including his own claim of being kicked in the genitals.
The original article included a bio describing Barghouti only as “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian” but conspicuously omitting his terrorist past. After an outcry from Israeli lawmakers and Jewish groups, the NYT added the following editor’s note to the op-ed:
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.
On Monday, MK Michael Oren, who also served as Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., said that the incident merited the shuttering of the New York Times’s Jerusalem bureau.
“If someone in the paper helped him [smuggle the article out of prison], The New York Times should be held accountable,” said Oren.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that calling Barghouti a political leader is like calling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a children’s doctor.
“They are murderers and terrorists,” Netanyahu said at a post-Passover celebration in the southern city of Dimona.
“We will never lose our sense of clarity, because we are on the side of justice and they are on the side that is neither just nor moral.
“This moral clarity, the readiness to defend our country, the readiness to fight those who would destroy us, is one of our greatest strengths,” he added.
Arab-Israeli MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List) filed a request to visit Barghouti, saying members of Knesset should not be barred from visiting security prisoners.
“Erdan should immediately cancel his order,” Touma-Sliman said on Monday. “The order is meant to isolate and weaken Palestinian prisoners… and prevent the exposure of severe violations by Israeli authorities against prisoners on hunger strike.”
Touma-Sliman also challenged the decision to put Barghouti in solitary confinement, saying it “proved the authorities’ obtuseness and refusal to hold a dialogue.”
“Any harm that will be caused to hunger-striking prisoners is the Israeli government’s sole responsibility, and [the government] will be responsible for any escalation that takes place,” she said.
Erdan said Barghouti’s solitary confinement was unrelated to the NYT article, rather it was in response to breaking prison rules by launching the hunger strike.
Erdan also said he was doubtful that the strike was in order to improve the lot of Palestinian prisoners and that it was far more likely to be a political ploy by Barghouti who harbors ambitions to succeed Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority.
Demands of the hunger strike include resuming a second monthly visit by family members (originally cancelled by the International Committee of the Red Cross over budgetary concerns), restoring academic studies for prisoners, and allowing additional TV channels and cell phones in security wings.
Erdan said security prisoners are not entitled to improved conditions and added that he refuses to negotiate with hunger strikers.
“These are terrorists, convicted murderers, who get exactly what international law requires,” he stated.
“There is no real justification for this strike… Terrorists aren’t in prison to get good conditions. They’re there to be punished. A hunger strike shouldn’t change our behavior as the state toward the prisoners.”
According to a prison services spokeswoman, the hunger strikers, which number around 1,100, were separated from other prisoners to ensure proper medical care.
The service also set up field hospitals to treat the hunger strikers and prevent them from overtaking civilian hospitals.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman posted on his Facebook page his wish to see Joint List MKs participate in the hunger strike.
“When it comes to the hunger strike by terrorists in Israeli jails, I take the approach of Margaret Thatcher,” he wrote, referring to the former British Prime Minister’s lack of sympathy when an IRA officer died of a hunger strike in 1980. “In addition, I hope to see Knesset members from the Joint List and Sheikh Raed Salah join the hunger strike without giving up and without eating chicken at night.”