(CNSNews.com) – After a storm of protest, the New York Times on Monday acknowledged it should have informed readers that the author of an op-ed excoriating Israel over the imprisonment of Palestinians was in prison for terrorist murders.
An editor’s note tacked onto the end of the article’s online version conceded that the op-ed had “neglected to provide sufficient context by stating the offenses of which he was convicted. They were five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization.”
Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five consecutive life sentences for the murder of five people in terror attacks, wrote the op-ed published Sunday to explain a decision by some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israel to begin a hunger strike.
The aim, he wrote, was to seek an end to Israeli “abuses” which he charged included torture, degrading treatment and medical negligence.
Barghouti, 57, referred to experiences in Israeli jails, beginning when he was a teenager, but made no reference to the trial and conviction that led to his incarceration today. Instead he portrayed himself as “pursuing this struggle for freedom along with thousands of prisoners, millions of Palestinians and the support of so many around the world.”
The New York Times initially informed readers only that “Marwan Barghouti is a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.”
Reaction from Israelis was quick in coming.
“Marwan Barghouti is a terrorist and a cold-blooded murderer,” said Israel’s ambassador to the U.N., Danny Danon, accusing the New York Times of both giving “a platform to a convicted murderer spreading baseless lies” and of “hiding the truth from its readers.”
“What's next?” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s spokesman David Keyes wrote in a letter to the paper. “Op-eds written by famed doctors Ayman al-Zawahiri and Bashar al-Assad?”
“Printing Barghouti’s sham plea for justice while omitting the fact that he’s a convicted mass murderer is outrageous.”
Keyes noted that during his imprisonment Barghouti “has taught courses, gotten a PhD and received a monthly salary from the Palestinian Authority.”
The wives and children of his victims, meanwhile, “were left heartbroken every single day.”
The Israel defense ministry office dealing with the Palestinian areas in a statement that the Times failed to mention that Barghouti was “commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades during the Second Intifada and is directly responsible for the murder of many Israeli civilians.”
Barghouti led Tanzim and Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, two violent factions linked to P.A. chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization.
Once viewed as a supporter of the U.S.-brokered Oslo peace process, he emerged as a leading militant voice after the outbreak in 2000 of the uprising known as the “second intifada.
Over the next several years the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade carried out numerous deadly attacks, including suicide bombings, with at least five American citizens among the victims.
In one March 2002 attack claimed by Barghouti’s group, a suicide bomber detonated his device alongside women and children in an Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood as the Jewish Sabbath ended. Among the 11 people killed were two babies and four children aged from three to 15.
“The resistance forces will continue to strike at the Zionist enemy,” Barghouti told a Hezbollah-run television station in Lebanon at the time. “And I am certain that the force of these strikes will even increase.”
Before that month was over, at least 27 more people were killed in further attacks carried out by the group.
On March 27, the State Department designated the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade as a foreign terrorist organization.
During a large-scale military operation in the P.A.-ruled areas the following month, Barghouti was arrested.
During his trial in a civilian court a judge said that he had “led, operated, assisted, incited and participated in acts of terror carried out by field commanders and terror activists who were subordinate to them, and thus willfully caused the deaths of hundreds of Israelis …”
(In its editor’s note Monday, the New York Times stated that “Mr. Barghouti declined to offer a defense at his trial and refused to recognize the Israeli court’s jurisdiction and legitimacy.)
Originally accused of planning 37 attacks that killed a total of 26 people and wounded scores more, he was ultimately acquitted of charges relating to 21 of the deaths, on the basis of insufficient available evidence.
Barghouti was convicted and sentenced for his role in the remaining five murders.
Three of the victims were killed when a gunman opened fire on a Tel Aviv restaurant in March 2002, then began stabbing people after he ran out of ammunition.
Yosef Habi, a 52-year-old father of two, was stabbed to death while struggling with the terrorist who had just shot and wounded his wife, Haya.
Eli Dahan, 53, a cafe owner and grandfather was also stabbed to death.
The third victim was Salim Barakat, 33, a policeman who responded to the attack and shot the gunman. When he leaned over to check whether the attacker was concealing a bomb, Barakat was fatally stabbed.
The indictment said Barghouti authorized that attack and received a report on it immediately afterwards.
Barghouti’s fourth murder conviction related to the death of Yoela Chen, a 45-year-old mother of two shot at a gas station north of Jerusalem in January 2002, while en route to a family wedding.
The fifth conviction related to Father Georgios Tsibouktzakis, 34, a Greek Orthodox monk based at a monastery near Jericho, shot dead by gunmen as he drove near Jerusalem in June 2001.
Barghouti received two additional prison terms of 20 years for a failed car bombing at a shopping center in Jerusalem, and for membership in a banned terror organization.
After his sentencing, the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigade issued a statement urging its fighters to “kidnap Zionists, children, women and soldiers and sentence them to death.”
For years, Barghouti’s supporters have been trying to paint him as a Palestinian equivalent of Nelson Mandela – a man imprisoned as a terrorist only to emerge from prison to become leader of his nation.
Media articles referring to Barghouti as “Palestine’s Mandela” or in similar terms date back to well before his sentencing in 2004.
Barghouti himself feeds that narrative, and his latest op-ed makes reference to Mandela and coins the anti-apartheid icon’s famous “long walk to freedom” expression.
The article also accuses Israel of apartheid (specifically “a form of judicial apartheid”) – a term Palestine supporters have increasingly appropriated to smear Israel.