Will last week’s Tel Aviv suicide bombing bang some sense into the Israeli government’s treatment of jailed terrorist Marwan Barghouti?
It’s not very likely. Nothing, it seems, can derail Israel’s plan to release Barghouti, a convicted murderer. Just one day before the Passover massacre in Tel Aviv, Israeli sources were widely reported to have asked the U.S. to release Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Barghouti’s freedom.
This is nothing new. Israel’s government tends to play the Barghouti card whenever it feels its back against the wall. In the lead-up to the January elections for the Palestinian parliament, Israeli officials lavished Barghouti with perks. They were hoping to stave off a Hamas victory at the polls by empowering him and the Fatah party he leads. The plan failed and Hamas won in a landslide.
But the government of Israel is not fazed. It has now apparently found inspiration in a quotation from Samuel Beckett. The Irish Nobel laureate whose centenary is this year wrote: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Israel’s government tried its best to catapult Barghouti to power. As a privileged prisoner, Barghouti was routinely permitted to conduct political meetings with high-ranking Palestinian and Arab-Israeli officials. He was even granted a 30-minute phone conversation with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas from the prison warden’s office.
Shortly before the Palestinian parliamentary elections, Israel Prison Service head Yaakov Ganot approved a series of television interviews in which Barghouti dropped incendiary lines like “I support the Palestinian intifada and Palestinian resistance.” The word “remorse” seems not to be in his lexicon.
Several prominent Israeli politicians, including Avraham Poraz, Meir Sheetrit and Gideon Ezra, dropped broad hints prior to the Palestinian elections that Barghouti – whom they tout as a “moderate” – would soon be released. The spokesman for Israel’s Prison Service, Ian Domnitz, has repeatedly referred to Barghouti as a “security prisoner.”
Question for Domnitz: Since when are security prisoners sentenced to five consecutive life sentences plus forty years, as Barghouti was?
These lame tactics were all in vain. The die had already been cast by Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. As Ari Shavit wrote in Haaretz, “The basic law of the Israeli-Palestinian jungle is that Israeli withdrawal does not restrain the conflict, but escalates it.”
But true to Beckett’s dictum, Israel aims to “try again” and “fail better.” Will the Israeli public sit silently by? I fear it will. The groundwork for Barghouti’s release has been impressively laid. We have been lulled into believing that the second intifada is over. Contradictory statistics are conveniently ignored.
How many know that during 2005, the year of the tahdia – the declared “calm,” usually translated inaccurately as “truce” – no fewer than 2,990 terrorist attacks were carried out against Israeli targets? They included 377 rocket attacks, 22% more than in 2004, before the “calm.”
How many are aware that since January 2005, 36 civilian Israelis and 12 soldiers have died at the hands of Palestinian terrorists? Or that in the first three months of 2006, 90 Palestinians attempting to carry out suicide bombings were arrested? That is more than half the number of such interceptions in all of 2005.
Against a backdrop this bleak, why does Israel seem so hell-bent on making a mockery of its own judiciary? Two years ago, a three-judge criminal court adjudged Barghouti guilty of involvement in the murders of an Israeli woman and a Greek Orthodox priest and of direct responsibility for the murders of three other Israelis in a Tel Aviv shooting attack. The court also convicted him of involvement in a failed suicide bombing at the huge Malcha shopping mall in Jerusalem.