Barghuthi, Marwan (1959–)

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Barghuthi, Marwan

Marwan Barghuthi (Barghuti, Barghouthi, Barghouti) is the secretary-general of the Fatah Higher Committee in the West Bank and an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Born and raised in the West Bank, he joined Fatah as a young man and cofounded the Fatah Youth Movement (al-Shabiba). He has been arrested and jailed numerous times and learned Hebrew while in Israeli prison. Despite his jail time, he completed his studies at Birzeit University in the West Bank. Expelled by Israel in 1987, he returned following the Oslo Accords in 1994 and was elected to the PLC. A clear supporter of a negotiated, two-state solution (Israel and Palestine within sovereign borders), he became disillusioned following the Oslo Accords due to continued Israeli settlement activity and violence, both of which violated the spirit and agreements at Oslo. He has been a supporter and some say leader of the al-Aqsa intifada, which started in 2000. After Barghuthi survived an Israeli assassination attempt in 2001, he was arrested in 2002 and convicted in a civilian court of being responsible for ordering the attacks that resulted in the deaths of five people, and he is serving five consecutive life sentences in jail. Despite this imprisonment, Barghuthi continues to play a significant role in Palestinian politics from jail, including being reelected to the PLC, and he is the most significant political prisoner whose release is being negotiated in a prisoner exchange between the Israelis and Palestinians.


Born on 6 June 1959 in Kubar in the Ramallah district of the then-Jordanian occupied West Bank, Barghuthi comes from a very large and well-known family, which includes such distant relatives as physician and PLC member Mustafa Barghuthi and Husayn Barghuthi, a poet and novelist. Marwan Barghuthi received a B.A. (history and political science) in 1994 and an M.A. in international relations in 1998 from Birzeit University in the West Bank. He began his undergraduate studies in 1983, but his frequent arrests delayed his timely completion of his degree. In 1984 he married Fadwa Ibrahim, also a student, who is now a lawyer. They have four children.


Barghuthi was a founder of the Fatah Youth Movement (al-Shabiba) and he was also elected head of the Birzeit University Student Council while enrolled there. During the first intifada (December 1987–1993) when Palestinians were actively resisting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, Barghuthi was in Jordan and Tunis. In May 1987 Ehud Barak, then commander of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Central Command, expelled him to Jordan. In exile, Barghuthi first worked as a liaison officer and then became a protégé of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) official Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), who was assassinated by Israeli agents in Tunisia in April 1988. Barghuthi remained in exile until the signing of the Declaration of Principles (the Oslo Accords) between the Israelis and Palestinians in 1993, following which he and many other PLO members were allowed to return to the West Bank and Gaza.


Name: Marwan Barghuthi (Barghuti, Barghouthi, Barghouti)

Birth: Kubar, West Bank, 1959

Family: Wife, Fadwa Ibrahim; three sons: Qassam (b. 1986), Sharaf (b. 1989), Arab (b. 1991); one daughter: Ruba (b. 1987)

Nationality: Palestinian

Education: Birzeit University, West Bank, Palestine. B.A., history and political science (1994), and M.A., international relations (1998)


  • 1980s: Founds Fatah Youth Group (al-Shabiba)
  • 1987: Expelled from West Bank to Jordan by Israel
  • 1994: Returns to West Bank and founds West Bank Fatah Higher Committee
  • 1995: Fatah Tanzim founded, eventually assumes leadership
  • 2000: Leads support for the second intifada and opposition to the Oslo Accords. Refuses to call for a halt to the violence as a condition of negotiations unless also Israel agrees to halt the violence
  • 2002: Arrested by Israel
  • 2003: Sentenced to five consecutive life terms in prison in connection with attacks that lead to the deaths of five people
  • 2006: Elected to the Palestinian Legislative Parliament (while still in Israeli jail)


"[I]t has been our experience that we cannot trust the Israelis. Since the Madrid conference till now—almost ten years—we were going to the negotiating table, thousands of meetings, not hundreds, believe me, but thousands of meetings on a lot of issues like politics, economics, security, etc. And what happened while we're negotiating? The Israelis used the time … used the umbrella of the negotiations to build new settlements. Israel, since the 1967 war to 1993, built roughly 25,000 housing units during the 26 years of Israeli occupation. Since 1993 until the eve of the Intifada—in a period of seven years—they built 23,400 new housing units. So I think the Israelis laugh at the Palestinians and use the negotiations to advance their own goals. And so I think it would be a disaster for the Palestinians to end the Intifada as a condition for returning to the negotiating table. The best and shortest way to stop the Intifada will be Israel's full withdrawal from the Occupied Territories—like what happened in Lebanon."


As a leader for reform within Fatah, the PLO, and the Palestinian Authority (PA), Barghuthi has also advocated a greater role for younger activists and for the growth of civil society. This position brought him into conflict with yasir arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority and head of Fatah, and also with Arafat's successor, mahmud abbas, who, although supportive of the reforms, does not want to alienate his supporters and base among the old guard in Fatah. Barghuthi has also taken the lead in corruption and human rights abuses campaigns against the PA security services and officials. Because Barghuthi is critical of Fatah and the PA's performance and leadership, he has enjoyed rising popularity among Palestinians who are increasingly disillusioned by the ineffectualness of Fatah and PA officials.

Barghuthi was a supporter of the Oslo Accords and of a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders (a Palestinian state in the West Bank [including East Jerusalem] and the Gaza Strip and an Israeli state within the pre-1967 Israeli borders). In a Washington Post editorial he wrote:

[S]ince 1994, when I believed Israel was serious about ending its occupation, I have been a tireless advocate of a peace based on fairness and equality. I led delegations of Palestinians in meetings with Israeli parliamentarians to promote mutual understanding and cooperation. I still seek peaceful coexistence between the equal and independent countries of Israel and Palestine based on full withdrawal from Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and a just resolution to the plight of Palestinian refugees pursuant to UN resolutions. I do not seek to destroy Israel but only to end its occupation of my country." (16 January 2002)

But as settlements continued to be created and expanded, despite Oslo's interdiction against this behavior, and as no progress was made toward the creation of an independent Palestinian state, by 1998 Barghuthi began to publicly criticize the unsuccessful implementation of the Oslo Accords and to question Israel's intent to abide by them and end the occupation.

The popularity Barghuthi enjoys as a leader is due to his willingness to criticize both parties in the conflict. He criticizes both Israel's failures to abide by its agreements, and also what many see as the spinelessness of Fatah and PA leadership in continuing negotiations with Israel despite the high costs and lack of results. In the wake of the many fruitless negotiations with the Israelis that the Palestinian leadership kept publicly advocating and participating in, Barghuthi's public criticisms reflected the majority sentiment of Palestinians that the leadership was focused on the negotiations process as such rather than the objective of ending the occupation. As a result, Barghuthi has led many public demonstrations as a grassroots leader and by all accounts is able to mobilize Palestinian sentiment on the street.

Barghuthi is the head of the Fatah militant Tanzim group that was established in 1995. As the leader of the Tanzim, he stands as one of the leaders of the al-Aqsa intifada. Israeli authorities also believe that he is the leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group affiliated with Fatah that has carried out attacks in the West Bank and Gaza on Israeli soldiers and settlers, and from 14 January 2002 onward, suicide bombings inside Israel.

He was the target of an Israeli assassination attempt in August 2001 and went underground. In September 2001 a warrant was issued for his arrest and he was captured in April 2002 during Israel's reoccupation of West Bank cities. Israel declared that they would try him in a civilian court on charges of financing or instigating thirty-seven attacks that had killed twenty-six people. Barghuthi refused to recognize the authority of the court to try him and instead issued his own indictment against Israel. In the court he declared:

We have been suffering under your sinister military occupation for over thirty-six years during which you killed us, tortured us, destroyed our homes and usurped our land. You made our life an enduring hell. We have an inherent moral and legal right to resist your occupation of our country. If you were in our shoes, you most certainly would do the same as we are doing. You would resist. […] I am against killing innocent people, against murdering innocent women and children. All the time I said I was against military operations, but one must fight the Israeli occupation of our homeland. We are a people like all other people. We want freedom and a state just like the Israelis. […] How could Jews who suffered and survived the Holocaust allow themselves to indulge in insufferable persecution of another people? (al-Ahram Weekly [October 2003], pp. 2-8)

He was convicted of playing a role in the deaths of five people and sentenced to five consecutive life sentences.

Yet, even from jail he has played a significant role in Palestinian politics. His support for Fatah leaders Abbas and muhammad dahlan was essential for persuading President Arafat to give more powers to the position of prime minister (which Abbas assumed in February 2004). He also played a role in bringing about the July 2004 cease-fire between Israel and Fatah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad. He initially ran as an independent presidential candidate for the elections held in January 2005, but withdrew in December and put his support behind Abbas. He also assisted in drafting the Prisoners' Document of May 2006, intended to build a platform of reconciliation in the political struggles between Fatah and Hamas. His role in running for president and calling for democratic primaries to elect nominees to run as Fatah representatives in the 2006 elections rankled the old guard Fatah officials who returned post-Oslo and who control the party. In the primary elections to create the Fatah electoral lists, which were halted due to factional violence, local activists swept the elections out of the hands of the old guard. However, when Fatah Central Committee created an elections list with the names of the old guard members, Barghuthi announced he and others would form a new party, al-Mustaqbal (the Future). Abbas prepared a compromise Fatah list and the split was averted, but the specter of favoritism, partisan action, and corruption plagued Fatah and led to serious losses to Hamas in the January 2006 elections.


As one of the most senior members of the PA and Fatah who supported the intifada and, by extension, Palestinians' right to resist the occupation (whether violently or nonviolently), Barghuthi condemned the position of PA leaders Abbas and Saeb Erekat, who acted based on their beliefs that the Israeli occupation would end through negotiations, as naive. Barghuthi declared that "I am not a terrorist, but neither am I a pacifist. I am simply a regular guy from the Palestinian street advocating only what every other oppressed person has advocated—the right to help myself in the absence of help from anywhere else" (Barghouti, 16 January 2002). He did, however, "strongly oppose attacks and the targeting of civilians inside Israel" and said that suicide bombings were "not correct." He said in an interview with Israeli journalist Gideon Levy in 2001:

I would really like all the organizations to concentrate on the territories. But I understand why they carry out actions inside Israel. Why should you feel secure in Tel Aviv when we don't feel secure in Ramallah or Bethlehem? […] If you want security in Tel Aviv, give security to Ramallah. […] Why should the Israelis have the right to fire shells and send in 15 tanks, while if a Palestinian goes into Israel, it's a big deal? (Ha'aretz, 12 November 2001)

His trial was condemned by Palestinians and by the Inter-Parliamentary Union which, in a report issued during its 173rd session, concluded that "[t]he numerous breaches of international law recalled in this report make it impossible to conclude that Mr. Barghuthi was given a fair trial." James A. Baker, the former U.S. secretary of state, appeared on CNN shortly after Arafat's death in 2004 and called on the Israeli government to release Barghuthi in order to allow more moderate leaders take roles to counteract Hamas's influence among the population.


As a young modernizer and democratic thinker, Barghuthi's experience within Fatah inspired him to push for reform within the party. Upon his return, he established the West Bank Fatah Higher Committee. One of his goals is to hold the internal Fatah elections for the Fatah Central Committee, which has not occurred since 1989.

Barghuthi is probably one of the most popular leaders in Palestine today, and his imprisonment and continued activities from jail have enhanced his standing. During his arrest and subsequent trial, polls placed him as the second-most popular Palestinian leader, behind Arafat. There is endless speculation over his name in lists for prisoner exchanges, including most recently the prisoner exchange negotiations that began over the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit who was captured in Israel and taken to Gaza in June 2006. Hamas included Barghuthi and Ahmad Sa'adat (the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], who is accused of coordinating the assassination of an Israeli minister of tourism in 2001) among the Palestinian political prisoners that they want released; this shows not only the respect these two hold among Hamas members, despite their being Fatah and PFLP officials, but it also shows the degree of unity with which Palestinian political figures see their struggle against Israel. According to media reports and historical precedents, Barghuthi's release in a prisoner exchange will most certainly occur. One sign of this is that more Israelis are willing to try and clear him. For instance, Israeli Knesset member and former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon said that "Marwan Barghuthi led a campaign of terror, but he himself does not have blood on his hands." (Arab News, 14 April 2007)


Barghouti, Marwan, "Want Security? End the Occupation." Washington Post (16 January 2002) Op-Ed section.

Campaign to Free Marwan Barghouti and All Political Prisoners. Available from

Hajjar, Lisa. "The Making of a Political Trial: The Marwan Barghouti Case." Middle East Report 32, no. 4 (2002): 30.

Levy, Gideon. "Death Isn't a Big Deal Anymore: A Talk with Tanzim Chief Marwan Barghouti." Haparetz. 12 November 2001.

"Marwan bin Khatib Barghouti." Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Available from

Maiʾi, Mohammed. "Barghouthi Has No Blood on His Hands: Israeli Lawmaker," Arab News. Available from

"The Trial of Marwan Barghouti—Palestine." Inter-Parliamentary Union. Available from

                                         Rochelle Anne Davis