The New York Times published an article on Wednesday profiling Fadwa Barghouti, the wife of Marwan Barghouti, a Palestinian terrorist currently serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison for murder.
Written by Shaina Shealy, the article described Fadwa and Marwan’s romance and politics in uncritical terms and even compared Marwan to the late South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela. It warmly portrayed Fadwa as a champion for her husband’s freedom, notably failing to mention that she also participated in a 2015 march honoring Abu Jihad, a Fatah leader who was implicated in 125 murders. Abu Jihad masterminded multiple attacks on Israeli civilians in the 1970s and 1980s, including 1978 Coastal Road massacre that claimed the lives of 38 people, 13 of whom were children.
In defending her husband, “Fadwa repeats over and over that Marwan never killed with his own hands,” Shealy wrote. “He led, she says, but he never killed.” Fadwa’s attempted defense seems to bolster Israel’s case that Marwan helped orchestrate terrorist attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis, rather than carrying them out himself. During his interrogation, Marwan admitted that this was his role.
Marwan was ultimately convicted by a civilian court in May 2004 of his involvement in three terrorist attacks in Israel that killed five people: Yosef Habi (52, from Netanya), Eli Dahan (53, from Lod), policeman Sgt.-Maj. Salim Barakat (33, from Yarka), Yoela Chen (45, from Giv’at Ze’ev), and Greek Orthodox monk Georgios Tsibouktzakis (34, from the St. George Monastery). He was acquitted on charges of 33 other murders due to lack of evidence of direct involvement, with the court noting, “he did not have direct control over the militants but did wield influence.”
Despite this, the Times article still described Marwan as a “Palestinian political prisoner” and, in the headline, called him a “Palestinian freedom fighter.”
These descriptors appear to violate the Times’ own standards. In April, the Times published an op-ed by Marwan and identified him simply as “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.” In the op-ed, Marwan made no mention of his multiple murder convictions and called the proceedings against him a “political show trial.”
After an uproar, the public editor of the Times agreed that Marwan was not properly identified and that this risked “the credibility of the author and the Op-Ed pages.” The Times later added an editors’ note to the op-ed detailing his convictions.
During this same time period, the Times published several articles about a hunger strike being led by Marwan. When Israeli prison officials released a video showing Marwan eating cookies during his alleged hunger strike, Fadwa was quick to claim that the footage was doctored. The Times ran an article casting doubt on the reliability of the video, quoting Fadwa as a source on the matter. There appears to be no evidence the video was altered in any way.
The Times’ apparent affinity for Marwan extends back decades. Shealy’s article says that Marwan has “made a name for himself as a freedom fighter.” One of the earliest descriptions of Marwan as such is in a 2003 Times article quoting Fadwa, while the description of Marwan as a Mandela-like figure can be found in a 2002 Times op-ed.
After Yasser Arafat’s death, the Times cast Marwan in a sympathetic light, calling him “a canny, charismatic figure who built strong ties to Israeli officials as a diplomat and politician in gentler times.” At the time, he was considered a potential successor to Arafat, despite his murder convictions. The Times’ reporting on Marwan’s potential political ambitions was particularly positive.
The Times’ op-ed pages have featured multiple articles supportive of Marwan. A 2011 Times op-ed called on Israel to release him from prison, while a 2012 op-ed endorsed Barghouti’s strategy for negotiations with Israel.
In The Myth of the Palestinian Mandela, published in the April-May 2017 issue of The Tower Magazine, media analyst Dexter Van Zile criticized efforts to whitewash Barghouti’s terrorism convictions and portray him as a “Palestinian Nelson Mandela.”
Barghouti certainly did support attacks on civilians, and we know this because he explicitly said so in public. Moreover, he acted according to his beliefs. Prior to his arrest in 2002, he was the leader of Tanzim and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, terrorist organizations responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israeli civilians on both sides of the Green Line. In 2012, Haaretz stated succinctly, “There is no question he supported and encouraged violence.” It reported in July 2016 that, as the Second Intifada progressed, Barghouti declared, “The time when only we sacrifice victims is past. We must take revenge. We must kill Israelis. Yes. We have bullets. We have rifles, and they will be aimed at the occupation.” He also predicted that the Second Intifada “will be the last round of violence, because the Palestinians have a feeling that they restored their self-respect through the attacks.”
Such sentiments were completely foreign to Mandela. In a speech at the 1964 trial that put him in prison, Mandela admitted that he did support the use of sabotage, but only to obtain the rights that had been denied to black South Africans, which they had previously hoped to obtain through non-violent methods. By way of comparison, the Palestinians have used terrorism since the beginning of their national movement, and did so even after they were offered statehood at the 2000 Camp David negotiations.