Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 December 2004
Issue No. 720
Region
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

This week proved to be an especially deciding one for Israel, the Palestinians and perhaps even neighbouring Arab states, writes Graham Usher from Jerusalem

Running for the cause

Al-Ahram Weekly interviews Fadwa, wife of the charismatic Palestinian freedom fighter and prisoner Marwan Barghouti

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With a poster of her husband in the background in the Central Election Commission in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Fadwa Barghouti, wife of the imprisoned Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti, shows the papers formalising her husband's candidacy

Israel's best hope?

Let the people decide


There are many in Fatah who have denounced Marwan Barghouti's decision to run against Mahmoud Abbas as an act of betrayal. It's an act of loyalty, says his wife, Fadwa.

Mahmoud Abbas's home in Ramallah is a palatial villa spread on a hillside surrounded by black limousines and a ring of Palestinian police. Marwan Barghouti's home is a second floor flat in a six-storey concrete apartment block. Overlooking a dark gorge, it is lashed by winter winds.

Domicile and lifestyle are not the only contrasts between the two main contenders to succeed Yasser Arafat as Palestinian Authority president.

Marwan's wife, lawyer and now de facto campaign manager, Fadwa, is permanently on the phone. Her home is abuzz with TV crews, family members and activists from their Fatah movement -- all seeking to find out why, having backed Abbas for the presidency a week before, her husband is now challenging him.

The flat is modestly furnished and spotlessly clean, with pictures of Marwan the Palestinian freedom fighter and prisoner interspersed with family shots of him the father with their four children and the husband with Fadwa at their wedding in 1982. On the door there is a campaign poster of Yasser Arafat holding aloft a portrait of his young West Bank leader: "I will run to defend the legacy of the Intifada, the resistance, the history of Fatah and Yasser Arafat," says the legend.

Fadwa knew the "sacrifices" involved when she married him, she says. He had already spent four years in an Israeli jail for membership in what was then an illegal Fatah movement. There were more detentions after the marriage during Barghouti's term as Student Council president at Birzeit University, culminating in his exile to Jordan in 1987.

During much the current Intifada he has been on the run, living at home only in snatches. Arrested in 2002, in June this year an Israeli court sentenced him to five life terms plus 40 years for what it charged was his role in attacks that left four Israeli civilians and a Greek monk dead. Fadwa and Marwan's eldest son, Qassam, 19 years old, is also in prison.

She has "no time" to speak of her life, only his candidacy. But she looks drawn, hand- combing her hair in readiness for yet another interview.

Why did Marwan change his mind and stand for the presidency?

He came to the decision after deep thought and after receiving hundreds of letters from ordinary Palestinians and political organisations urging him to run. It is not about seeking positions. Marwan knows there is no meaning to being president when your country is under occupation. It is about participating in the democratic process to give the people a choice and to express his loyalty to the homeland and to the Palestinians' national rights.

So does he feel he made a mistake in originally backing Abbas?

No, it's not exactly that. Marwan feels he has a duty to his people and to all those who struggled for the cause of Palestine -- that he must protect their struggle. He feels he is close to the people, that he has been with them throughout the Intifada and that the Intifada remains the only way to end the occupation and bring independence.

Marwan believes that as long as there is occupation there has to be resistance to occupation. At the same time, while the resistance continues, there should be negotiations with Israel. This, essentially, is his message: There can be no negotiations without resistance and no resistance without negotiations.

The other side [Abbas] believes in negotiations only. Well, the Palestinians tried negotiations only for seven years during the Oslo process, and it didn't work. It didn't bring us independence. It brought us more occupation, more settlements and more destruction.

But can he wage this struggle from prison -- even as president?

Why not? There are lots of cases where presidents or leaders have been in prison and still played a major role in their country. Look at Nelson Mandela -- from his prison cell he played a huge role in achieving freedom for his country. This is Marwan's model. He believes he will be successful.

Isn't he splitting Fatah?

He is not dividing Fatah. Marwan is Fatah. And there are lots of people in Fatah -- including leaders from the first and second Intifadas -- who will support his candidacy.

Can he win?

I understand there are powerful forces with powerful resources ranged against him. But supposedly there is going to be a democratic process. His candidacy will be a test for our democracy and show whether elections can actually change anything. Even if Marwan loses, it will be enough if there are clean and democratic elections.

Will he change his mind again?

No.

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