My Dinner with Mustafa and Marwan

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As reported in the NY Times on February 21, the Israel Ministry of Justice has announced that in the absence of further specific evidence against him, Islamic Jihad “spokesperson,” Khader Adnan, will be released from administrative detention on April 17, 2012.  In return, Mr. Adnan agreed to terminate a 66-day hunger strike (in protest of his detention) that had left him close to death.

Extolling Mr. Adnan’s fortitude in going more than nine weeks without food, Palestinian Parliament Member Mustafa Bargouthi lamented in a NY Times op-ed that,

“Palestinians have tried armed struggle; we have tried negotiations; and we have tried peace conferences.  Yet all we have seen is more Israeli settlements, more loss of lives…and the emergence of a horrifying system of segregation.”

Decrying Israel’s “security barrier,” which “pens us into what are best described as Bantustans,” Bargouthi proclaimed that, “others must now show similar courage” to that displayed by Adnan.  Were they to do so, he argues, “the last surviving apartheid system in the world” could be brought down, Israelis could be made to cease “being part of the last colonial-settler system of our time,” and “Palestine” could be made free.

Of course, Bargouthi has some of his “facts” wrong.  Israeli Jews, for example, are not “colonial settlers,” but rather a people with a valid claim to secure self-determination in at least part of their ancestral homeland (a claim that Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinan Authority, together with most of the Arab world, consistently deny).  Likewise, Israel is not an “apartheid” state.  Israel’s Arab citizens have full and equal rights not enjoyed by women, gays or ethno-religious minorities anywhere in the Arab world (including the PA-controlled West Bank).  And Israel’s security barrier – the putative symbol of Israeli “segregation” policy – was not brazenly erected despite Palestinian participation in “negotiations” and “peace conferences,” but because certain Palestinian “spokespersons” kept blowing themselves up in Israeli hotels, buses, and restaurants.  (The results of the security barrier speak for themselves:  In 2002, prior to its construction, 457 Israelis were murdered in such attacks.  In 2009, after its construction, the murder toll was eight.)

Factually deficient or no, Bargouthi’s piece made for such stirring reading that on the evening of its publication hundreds of jailed Palestinians refused their meals in a show of solidarity.  Sadly, the momentum of this “group fast” was derailed by the discovery that, while the participants went hungry, Bargouthi’s famous cousin, Marwan (the jailed Fatah leader) was eating dinner in his cell in front of a prison surveillance camera.

Although both Bargouthis have been roundly chastised for their seeming hypocrisy, the overture they were trying to make will be self-evident to any master of subtlety:  By feasting as they implored others to starve, Marwan and Mustafa were cleverly signaling their endorsement of the Obama Doctrine of “leading from behind” (which our president employed to such stunning effect in Libya last year, thereby setting that country on the road from secular dictatorship to Sharia-style utopian theocracy).

The Bargouthis’ signal likely comprised an attempt to enlist the American president in their campaign against Israel’s policy of “administrative detention.”  But even though President Obama has some small experience at leaving others to go hungry while he eats, an embrace of the Bargouthis’ anti-administrative detention strategy could prove politically risky — especially when one considers that Obama’s own Gitmo policy (which holds much in common with Israel’s “administrative detention”) commands overwhelming support among American voters.

When Adnan is finally released, he will have spent four months in detention.  A long stretch — not “Gilad Shalit” long, but long.  Israel utilizes its policy of detaining suspects without charge only if they are deemed an imminent security threat and publication of the charges against them would endanger Israel’s intelligence network.  Hence, the charges against Adnan remain unknown (although in his role as “spokesperson” for Islamic Jihad — a terrorist organization responsible for 118 Israeli deaths and 759 casualties — he has at least once been caught on video exhorting others to become suicide bombers.).  Of note, Israel has employed “administrative detention” not only against Palestinians, but also against Israeli Jews.  For example, in a story that somehow escaped the media, a number of underage Jewish females from Gush Katif were held without charge for weeks during the 2005 Gaza disengagement.

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  • stern

    Great article, thank you.

    Oh, and if the Palestinians do decide to starve themselves to death, who are we to argue?

  • Marty

    "a horrifying system of segregation"! Are you kidding me? Does bargouthi have a clue what goes on in islamic countries where christians and any remaining Jews (who haven't fled or been killed) are relegated to third class citizenship (women compose the second class citizenship tier) are locked into their repective ghettoes and live in fear of their lives on a daily basis. Does bargouthi recall that both the palestinian authority and hamas have made public statements that there is no room for Jews in any palestinian state? Is he such a remarkable dolt that he refuses to recognize the existence of 1.5 million palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship and live their lives in freedom, prosperity, and the absence of fear? Oh yes, they get plenty to eat.

  • aspacia

    I am so sick of the Arab/Muslim whine using the mendacious term Apartheid adjective for the only ME country to allow all genders, and people of divergent faiths to participate in all walks of Israeli life.

  • Frances

    Another brilliantly written thought piece by a writer whose name is becoming familiar to all of us. I can't wait to buy his book. Let's hear more from Professor Schwartzwald!

  • tagalog

    Bargouthi says, “Palestinians have tried armed struggle; we have tried negotiations; and we have tried peace conferences. Yet all we have seen is more Israeli settlements, more loss of lives…and the emergence of a horrifying system of segregation.”

    The obvious next step is a mass hunger strike. I say go for it.