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Occupation magazine - Activism

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Political Prisoners
Mazin Qumsiyeh
Popular Resistence
12.10.11

http://popular-resistance.blogspot.com/2011/10/political-prisoners.html


It is good news that over 1000 Palestinian political prisoners will be released in a prison swap deal. But there are still thousands of Palestinian political prisoners. This Saturday we will be discussing in our cultural group the new book by Marwan Barghouthi about his life behind bars. He will apparently not be part of this prisoner exchange deal neither will Ahmed Saadat of PFLP nor other key leaders. For English readers on this list, I translated my review of Barghouthi`s book (originally in Arabic) and included it here. Below that I include some text on prisoners from my book `Popular Resistance in Palestine: A history of Hope and Empowerment.` Hopefully those two sections will give you some idea about the struggles of political prisoners now in the news. Hopefully, Hamas (which did not get all it wanted but did score a political victory here) and Fatah (which scored a political victory by abandoning the futile US-led bilateral negotiations) could now implement their signed agreements especially on representation in the PNC.
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Comparing Books by political prisoners: Nelson Mandela and Marwan Barghouthi
Review by Mazin Qumsiyeh


I read Nelson Mandel`s inspiring autobiography many years ago. His book was titled `Long Walk to Freedom` because it was done after the end of apartheid. Marwan Barghouthi`s book is not an autobiography in that sense because our people`s walk to freedom is still ongoing. It is thus titled `One thousand days in prison isolation cell` and refers to a part of the struggle. We indeed look for the day that our political prisoners can write books at the end of the road to freedom.


Barghouthi`s book is dedicated to his wife, his children, to the Palestinian people, to the Arab and Islamic world, to all those who struggle and resist occupation and colonization, and to fellow prisoners. Mandela`s book similarly recalls family, people, and fellow political prisoners.


Barghouthi recalls his village life in Kuber with much passion and love in his newest book but you will find the national cause dominate the book. While Kuber is mentioned two or three times, Palestine is mentioned on just about every paragraph. Mandela had a rural beginning in a small village called Mvezo and still retains that love of land. He was a shepherd and ploughed lands. He dreamed of becoming a lawyer and was like Barghouthi interested in learning. He enrolled at Birzeit University in 1983 but due to exile and other factors only finished his bachelor in 1994 (in history and political science). In 1998, he got masters in international relations. Both Mandela and Barghouthi led youth movements in their teens and became strong leaders even as they were pursued and jailed.


Mandela like Barghouthi reports on mistreatment, lengthy incarcerations, resisting, and all that you expect from someone who went through such experiences. Mandela like Barghouthi says that it is not what he actually did that he was being punished for but for what he stood for. Both were charged by the respective apartheid regimes of leading armed guerrilla groups.


Through these writings, you see a common characteristic: great humility. They do not elevate themselves above the thousands who struggle for freedom. Even though some of us consider them key leaders, they themselves see their role as foot soldiers. Barghouthi describes being beaten on his private parts and losing consciousness waking later to find a gash on his head from falling and hitting the cement wall. The gash left a permanent mark. But immediately after describing this, Barghouthi merely says (p. 21) that is it is merely a small example of what tens of thousands of activists were subjected to.


In the mid 1950s Mandela devised a plan and convinced fellow ANC leaders to adopt it that created a decentralized structure. Cells are formed at the grassroots level and select among them leadership at intermediate levels which insured secrecy and yet some level of democracy and operational meaning. Barghouthi recalls how he was not happy about Arafat`s autocratic structure and especially those around Arafat many of them were corrupt and not dedicated to the Palestinian struggle.


Barghouthi and Mandela speak of psychological warfare including the games of good investigator and bad investigator played to break prisoners` will. A lot of what he says about mistreatment in prison will not be new to Palestinians alive today. Most Palestinians above age 30 have tasted at least some of these pains. Of course Barghouthi suffered more than most Palestinian males his age.


Barghouthi talks about how critical the visit by his lawyer was to break his isolation and makes him feel connected to life outside the prison. Mandela also refers to the psychological boost received by knowing that people outside continue the struggle and care about the freedom of political prisoners.


Barghouthi states on page 130 how in prison you have lots of time to think. He recalls these thoughts in detail and they range from his feelings of solidarity with all persecuted and oppressed people around the world to poor programming on Palestinian television (when the channel was allowed in prisons). Barghouthi speaks about his passions like reading books. He speaks of his love for his family. He speaks of women liberation. He speaks of learning languages in jail. The thoughts of Mandela in jail also dealt with similar issues. Barghouthi describes solitary confinement as `slow death` (p. 81). Mandela calls them the `dark years`.


Barghouthi speaks about how the US and western positions put significant pressures on Arafat and that finally, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas was appointed prime minister. Abbas, according to Barghouthi, was known for his positions against resistance (p. 156). In one section he talks about how leadership did not rise to the challenge or match the enormous struggle, aspirations and needs of the people.


Barghouthi says on page 148 that Israel can defeat a particular leader or faction or group of people but cannot defeat the will of the Palestinian people. On the next page he articulates beautifully why resistance in all its types is so critical to success in achieving our collective goals. The cost of occupation and colonization must be made unbearable or at least more than the benefit from it for Israel to back off.


Barghouthi speaks about how his political actions did not stop in jail. He gives several examples including the Palestinian factions observing a cease fire that started 19 December 2001 on the eve of the visit by American envoy General Anthony Zinni. That cease fire lasted for nearly a month but was broken by Israel`s assassination of Ra`ed Karmi.


Barghouthi recalls that one of the more painful episodes was the abduction of his son Qassam. His letter to his son takes 30 pages of the book! It is an amazing letter that recalls the history of Palestine, the history of struggle, the history of the prisoner movement and much more. But the letter also reflects on feelings and attitude of Barghouthi himself in key periods of his life. How he felt when his son was born while he is in jail. How he built a relationship with his wife despite being a man spending most of his life either on the run or in jail. It is very detailed mentioning dates and events and surroundings that put the reader (his son and us) in those circumstances. He recalls the death of his father 5 August 1985. He talked about his biggest pains (which were not the interrogations, torture or solitary confinement) but when he was exiled to Jordan in the late 1980s. Yet he also says that after his family joined him in exile from the homeland, the family life alleviated the pain of exile from his homeland. The letter ends with recommendations he gives to his son like any father gives to his son. But here the recommendations are about exercising, reading books, learning languages, and keeping friendly relations with fellow prisoners.


The book finishes with a section about his wife and a final section about collaborators in Israeli jails. It is significant that he decided to conclude with detailed exposure of the despicable methods of collaborations. Similarly, Mandela`s autobiography includes a section on treason.


Oliver Tambo described Mandela as passionate, fearless, impatient and sensitive. I never met either Mandela or Barghouthi personally but after reading these books, I can say that I agree not only with these adjectives applied to Mandela and Barghouthi but I can think of many others: humble, honest, intelligent, articulate, and I can go on but I will leave that to historians to give people their due. But knowing such people at least through their writings and writings of others about them adds to our conviction that freedom is inevitable to nations that have such individuals.

rh
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