(CNSNews.com) – Israel’s public security minister has slammed as a “hypocrite” the leader of a group of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike after he was filmed apparently eating surreptitiously in his cell.
Surveillance video released by the Israel Prison Service Sunday purportedly shows Marwan Barghouti, a convicted terrorist viewed by some as a prospective future president, eating what looks like a candy bar in a bathroom stall in his cell in Kishon prison in northern Israel.
A committee set up in support of the hunger strike on Sunday dismissed the footage as part of a “war of lies” aimed at discrediting the prisoners, and claimed the clips dated back to at least 2004, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.
The Israel Prison Service, however, says the footage was filmed on April 27 this year and again eight days later, on May 5. On April 17, Barghouti and hundreds of other Palestinians serving prison terms in Israeli jails had launched what they call the “Freedom and Dignity” hunger strike to demand changes to their conditions.
In a New York Times op-ed published the day after it began, Barghouti wrote that the campaign aimed to end “abuses” which he claimed include torture, degrading treatment and medical negligence.
(The Times came under fire for not informing readers that the op-ed writer was serving five consecutive life sentences for the murder of five people in terror attacks. It subsequently acknowledged that it should have done so. Barghouti was convicted in 2004.)
Israeli prisons fall under Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who in a video statement said the hunger strike had never been about the conditions of the convicted terrorists, which he said meet international standards, but about advancing Barghouti’s political ambition to succeed Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
“Barghouti is a murderer and a hypocrite,” Erdan said. “While he was urging his fellow terrorists to remain steadfast in their strike and encouraging others to join, he himself was sneaking food behind their backs.”
“And just like he sent others to carry out terror attacks while he hid in Ramallah, he called on others to fast and suffer while he ate and enjoyed himself.”
Erdan said Barghouti had lied to Israel when he denied terrorism, had lied to the world in his New York Times op-ed saying the strike was in response to the ill-treatment of prisoners, and was lying to the Palestinians by claiming that he was refusing to eat.
Ma’an quoted the “National Committee for the Freedom and Dignity Strike” as saying that the prison authorities’ decision to release the clips and pass them off as recent was evidence that Israel was “waging a serious war of lies and misleading information to create a state of confusion in the Palestinian public and among hunger striking prisoners.”
In a message from prison released by the PLO on May 3 – between the two dates given by the Israel Prison Service for the video clips – Barghouti wrote, “We stress our determination to undertake this struggle whatever the cost, and we have no doubt that the Palestinian prisoners will be steadfast and prevail.”
“Since I joined in my early years this national struggle I was faithful to the oath I undertook towards our people and I do not believe in semi-belonging or semi-positions, and I believe that resisting colonial occupation and achieving freedom is a sacred value and principle that I have believed in and I will continue together with the prisoners and our people this journey till we overcome,” the message read.
Barghouti, 57, is a leader in Abbas’ Fatah movement and was the founder and commander of Fatah’s armed wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
The group was designated by the U.S. government as a foreign terrorist organization in March 2002.
Earlier that month, it had claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed 11 people, including two babies and four children aged from three to 15, in an Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood. Other attacks carried out by the group that month killed at least 27 more people.
Barghouti was arrested weeks later, and accused of planning 37 attacks that killed a total of 26 people and wounded scores more.
His was acquitted of charges relating to 21 of the deaths on the basis of insufficient evidence, but was convicted and sentenced for his role in the remaining five murders.
The victims were a 52-year-old father, a 53-year-old café owner and a 33-year-old policeman, all stabbed to death in a Tel Aviv restaurant; a 45-year-old woman shot dead en route to a family wedding; and a 34-year-old Greek Orthodox monk, shot dead in his car near Jerusalem.
Barghouti was handed two further terms of 20 years’ imprisonment for a failed car bombing at a Jerusalem shopping center, and for membership of a banned terror organization.
His supporters frequently equate him to the late Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned by South Africa’s white minority government for 27 years before going on to become the country’s first democratically-elected president.
“Trying to portray Barghouti as some type of Nelson Mandela is grotesquely offensive to the memory of that great man,” Jamal Barakat, a member of the minority Druze community whose policeman brother was killed in the Tel Aviv restaurant attack, argued in a recent Jerusalem Post column.
“All attempts at trying to spin a convicted killer as some kind of savior of his people simply evades the truth that this man stood behind the murder of my brother and should never be set loose to sow more tragedy that pushes peace further away,” he wrote.