Two peoples, two states

His manacled hands held aloft in a proud gesture of defiance, Marwan Barghouti last week turned the dock of an Israeli court into a political platform from which he denounced Israel's brutal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and called on Palestinians to continue their struggle for freedom and nationhood. The scene was room 606 in the Tel Aviv district court. The occasion: Barghouti's indictment on counts including murder, incitement to murder, attempted murder, being an accessory to murder, conspiracy and membership of a terrorist organisation. The prosecution allege that, as the head of Tamzin, the armed wing of Fatah, and the leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, he is nothing less than "an arch-terrorist whose hands are bloodied by dozens of terror actions, a murder chieftain" (from the text of the 18-page indictment). If convicted, he faces life imprisonment. The real purpose of Barghouti's trial should be obvious to all: ie, to smear and delegitimise the entire Palestinian leadership, including, of course, Yasser Arafat, by linking them with the supposed funding, planning and execution of all terrorist operations against Israel. That, to put it bluntly, is why Marwan Barghouti is still alive, rather than being just another name on the long roll of Palestinian leaders and activists who have been victims of Israel's bloody campaign of political assassination during the two years of the present intifada. Even as I write, we hear that in Ramallah, one Mohammed Saadat was 'shot while attempting to escape' from a band of Israeli undercover special forces. Why? Because he was the brother of Achmed Saadat (the Nazis used to call this Sippenhaft - punish the relatives for the alleged crimes of their kinsfolk). Reportedly, Achmed Saadat is the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and is currently under US/UK detention for his supposed involvement in the murder last year of Rehavam Zeevi, Sharon's tourism minister. Who was Zeevi? With his avowedly racist advocacy of a 'final solution' to the Palestinian question, he was the nearest the Sharon murder-gang has yet come to having its very own Julius Streicher. So why put Barghouti on trial rather than just bump him off, like so many others? As the secretary general of Fatah on the West Bank, a prominent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and a charismatic leader of street-level resistance to Israeli occupation, Barghouti is by far the most significant Palestinian politician to appear before an Israeli court during the present troubles. Given his popularity as an inspirational leader of the younger generation of Fatah activists - a popularity that can only be boosted in the minds of Palestinians by this transparent show trial in front of his captors - it is not fanciful to see him as a potential successor to Arafat. By choosing to try and (they are confident) convict him in an open court, albeit presided over by a tame judge, rather than just having him routinely murdered by Israeli special forces, the Sharon government is taking a gamble, for here is a man who will definitely not go quietly. "You can't break the intifada ... The intifada will be victorious" were his first words on entering the court. In a fluent mixture of Arabic, English and Hebrew, Barghouti then began to set out his own 50-clause indictment of Israel "for bloodshed against the two peoples". Twice he was ejected from the court, but he would not be silenced: "Everybody in this world knows that Marwan Barghouti is fighting for peace. The best solution for the two peoples is two states for two peoples. Security will only be achieved in one way: by peace; and peace will only be achieved by the end of the occupation." Barghouti is no stranger to the inside of an Israeli prison cell. Having joined the ranks of Fatah at the age of 15, in the 1980s he was interned by the Israeli authorities for membership of a 'terrorist' organisation and was subsequently deported. In the 1990s, having played a significant part in persuading the Fatah leadership to acknowledge Israel, he was associated with the peace process and developed links with Israeli officials. More recently, however, in the light of Israel's repeated bloody incursions and occupation of Palestinian territory on the West Bank and Gaza, he has understandably stressed the right of Palestinians to use force in order to defend themselves and their territory from Israeli aggression. On April 15 this year, he himself became a victim of such aggression, when, in flagrant contravention even of the imperialist-imposed Oslo accords and several other bilateral agreements, he was abducted by Israeli troops from Ramallah and thrown into an Israeli jail. According to testimony from his defence lawyers, for the last four months he has been the guest of the security service, Shin Bet. During his incarceration he has reportedly been subjected to systematic torture in the form of sleep deprivation and, during lengthy interrogations, the use of shabeh, a technique in which the prisoner is shackled to a small chair maintained in such a position that he can never rest in a stable position. Such techniques leave no marks, they 'merely' ensure that the subject is in a state of chronic weariness and disorientation and that his limbs are wracked by violent cramps. If Barghouti is convicted on the basis of his own 'confessions', we know what to think about that. Otherwise, the prosecution case rests on the testimony of Nasser Awais and Nasser Abu Hamid, two alleged members of the al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, who have been in Israeli detention for months (not difficult to imagine what they have been put through at the hands of Shin Bet). In addition, the Israelis claim to have recovered documentary evidence of Barghouti's (and by association) Arafat's involvement in 'terrorism'. The Barghouti case is replete with irony. For the last 28 years of his life this man has been struggling for Palestinian self-determination. When his best efforts towards an equitable solution were thwarted by Israeli intransigence; when the latest intifada arose as a direct consequence of bloody and prolonged Israeli aggression, he gave eloquent voice to the demand that Palestinians should use force against force, arms against arms. It is for this and nothing else that he now stands in the dock. His call for two equal states goes to the heart of the problem. He is right to say that the Palestinian people will only end their resistance on the basis of a solution based on self-determination and the rights of both nations. Yet, on the one hand, the Zionist right wing still dreams of a greater Israel, with the Palestinians written out of the equation, while, on the other, the purveyors of islamist terrorism - Hamas et al - seek the elimination of Israel and its replacement by a muslim fundamentalist state. To its shame so much of the left also refuses to recognise Israeli national rights. Many act as uncritical apologists for Hamas. Yet Barghouti is also correct to emphasise that the Palestinian and Israeli people alike suffer the consequences of Zionist butchery and the refusal to accept Palestinian self-determination. The answer is for a programme based on the working class which allows both peoples to fight side by side against the twins of terror - Sharon and Hamas. That can only mean a democratic, secular Palestine alongside a democratic, secular Israel. Maurice Bernal