Video clips purporting to show Marwan Barghouti eating in his prison cell are unlikely to damage his image among prisoners and the broader Palestinian public. Instead, they seem to be having the opposite effect.
The Israel Prison Service published a video Sunday that it said showed Barghouti, a former terror chief who is leading a mass prisoner hunger strike, eating in secret on two occasions.
An unnamed IPS official told Channel 2 on Monday that the video clips were the result of a scheme to induce the hunger strike’s leaders to eat by hiding food in their cells — in Barghouti’s case, cookies and a chocolate wafer.
However, while they may have convinced some of the Israeli public that Barghouti is a fraud, the clips do not appear to have swayed either the other prisoners or the Palestinian public.
For one thing, the other prisoners do not have access to the videos, although The Times of Israel has learned that rumors that Barghouti broke his hunger strike have reached them. In the long term it may affect their resolve, but in the short term it is having no such effect.
With respect to a second Israeli objective — to undermine Barghouti’s status in the eyes of the Palestinian public — the videos have had the opposite effect: The energy that Israel appears to be investing in persecuting Barghouti has demonstrated to the Palestinians what a hero he truly is.
Palestinians who spoke with the Times of Israel the day after the videos were released said repeatedly that Israel does not understand their mentality. It is clear to them that whoever hatched the plan to set up Barghouti made a gross error of judgment.
“Everything published by the Israeli government is understood by us as false and cheap propaganda,” said one. “You [Israelis] simply don’t understand. And now we know that the chocolate wafer was planted in his cell [to snare him].
“If this is all he ate after 20 days of hunger strike, did you really think it would damage his image?” he said.
Another Palestinian said that Barghouti offers a better alternative than the existing leadership.
“What kind of leaders do Palestinians in the West Bank have today?” he said. “Fatah officials who are cultivating the security coordination with Israel? Corrupt [officials] who drive government cars and live in luxury villas?”
He said that the Barghouti tapes offered them a rare “glimpse of someone they consider a real leader.”
“He is held in solitary confinement, in an extremely tiny cell,” he continued. “The authorities even film him on the toilet. And still he stands up against Israel. So who do you think the Palestinian public will support? Our jailed Nelson Mandela or some corrupt official in a Mercedes?”
According to Palestinian officials, 1,500 inmates have been refusing food since the strike began 22 days ago to protest prison conditions. Israeli officials say only some 800 continue to refuse food, and have raised the possibility of bringing in foreign doctors to force-feed them (which Israeli doctors are refusing to do).
Those are about the same numbers that each side was citing before the release of the video.
Supporters of Barghouti say the video clips are a fabrication intended to break the prisoners’ morale.
Qadura Fares, who heads the Palestinian Prisoners Club advocacy group, has cast doubt on the footage, contending that because Barghouti was being held in solitary confinement, he had no access to food.
“This is a fabrication,” Fares said of the footage. “This is psychological warfare that we expected Israel to wage against the strike.” He said that “the prisoners will not buy this account from the Israeli side, and they will continue their strike.”
Fadwa Barghouti, the hunger-striker’s wife and attorney, said the “Israel government’s fabrications” showed “the extent of the (Israeli) occupation’s decline,” according to the Ma’an news agency.
Barghouti, a Fatah party leader, is serving five life sentences after he was convicted in 2004 in a civil court of initiating and planning multiple deadly terror attacks against Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada.
He remains a popular figure in Palestinian society and is seen as a possible successor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Some analysts in Israel have pointed to the hunger strike as a bid by Barghouti to show Abbas he still wields political power.
AP contributed to this report.