A day after convicted Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti wrote a New York Times op-ed that omitted his crimes and terrorist organization membership and sparked scathing rebuke from the international community, the newspaper added a brief editor’s note acknowledging the murder and terror-related convictions that led to his imprisonment.
The April 16 piece — in which the Times referred to Barghouti as a “Palestinian leader and parliamentarian” — was slammed by Israeli officials and Jewish leaders in the United States and elsewhere.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, “I read, on Sunday, the article in The New York Times that presents arch-terrorist Marwan Barghouti as a ‘parliamentarian and leader.’ The paper recanted after we pointed it out to them.”
“Calling Barghouti a ‘political leader’ is like calling Assad a ‘pediatrician,’” Netanyahu added. “They are murderers and terrorists.”
Barghouti, who used the Times as a platform to accuse Israel of conducting “mass arbitrary arrests and ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners,” was convicted in June 2004 for killing five people — including a Christian Greek Orthodox priest whom he mistook for a rabbi — and the attempted murder of another. He is serving five life sentences and 40 additional years for the murders.
The editor’s note clarifies, “This article explained the writer’s prison sentence but neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offense of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization.”
The Times’s public editor, Liz Spayd, criticized the paper’s op-ed department for its failure to list the crimes committed by Barghouti, writing that “failing to do so risks the credibility of the author and the Op-Ed pages.”
The op-ed also was criticized across the political spectrum in Israel.
Yesh Atid party leader and MK Yair Lapid said Barghouti “was involved in dozens of terror attacks that made people lose family, that maimed innocents, that ruined people’s lives. The New York Times ‘forgot’ to tell its readers that.”
Jewish Home party leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett weighed in via Facebook, posting a picture of one of the terrorist’s victims and writing, “Marwan Barghouti is a heinous murderer who should rot in jail until the day he dies.”
Meanwhile, Barghouti initiated a hunger strike on Sunday, following weeks of preparation. The strike now involves more than 1,100 Palestinian prisoners in the Gilboa, Meggido, Nafha, Ketziot, Shikma, Ramon, Hadarim, and Nitzan prisons.
The prisoners are demanding improved conditions, such as the installation of payphones in all prison wings, and that the prisons allow more frequent family visits.
A spokesperson for the Israel Prison Service said, “Hunger strikes in prison endanger the health and life of the prisoners in custody of the state who’s in charge of their wellbeing and are violations of the discipline and order. Organized hunger strikes even more so.”
Prison officials have started “disciplinary measures toward the striking prisoners and transferring them into separate cell blocks,” the spokesman said. These strikes are not new to Israeli prisons, and officials do not negotiate with prisoners. Security officials are prepared for the possibility of a strike and coordinate with other organizations such as the IDF, the Ministry of Health, and the Israel Police.
In response to the hunger strike, Barghouti has been moved to solitary confinement. Officials are investigating whether Barghouti’s op-ed was transmitted to the newspaper through his attorney or if Barghouti’s wife actually wrote it.
While Barghouti is affiliated with Fatah, which is the largest faction of the PLO and is headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, his hunger strike caused other Palestinian factions to unite behind his effort.
Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestinian Prisoners Society, said in a statement, “The Palestinian people, in every place where it lives, declared today that the prisoners’ issue is sacred to it and that the occupation government will not enjoy quiet and security as long as it violates the rights of the Palestinian people and harms its prisoners.”
“The Palestinian people declared today an intifada on behalf of the prisoners who are conducting a campaign whose foundation is a hunger strike for their rights and their dignity,” Qaraqe said.
At the same time, Barghouti’s actions may undermine and threaten Abbas. Despite being imprisoned for more than a decade, Barghouti remains a popular figure among Palestinians and is rumored to be a potential successor to Abbas. As such, Abbas sought to capitalize on the latest efforts, releasing a statement in support of the hunger strike and calling on the international community to intervene.
Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Gaza-based Palestinian terror group Hamas, said that the release of the Palestinian prisoners who are on hunger strike is a top priority for the organization.
Protests in support of the hunger strike were held in several Palestinian areas throughout the West Bank, most prominently in Ramallah, which saw more than 2,000 protesters march through the streets waving Palestinian flags and holding pictures of Barghouti.
In response, Israeli-Arab MK Osama Saadia of the Joint List said, “We are certain that all of the Palestinian prisoners are united in this campaign, which is a campaign for the liberty of the Palestinian people.”
Another Arab Knesset member, Aida Touma-Suliman, applied for a permit to visit Barghouti in prison.