Indeed, the Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, now heading a mass hunger strike in the Israeli prisons, was sentenced by an Israeli court to five life terms. The New York Times was ready to publish this fact after the high-level protests made by the Government of Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and his ministers should be reminded of some more facts. For example, in the bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, carried out on July 22, 1946, by the Etzel (Irgun) underground organization headed by Menachem Begin, 91 people were killed. Of them, as reported at the time, 28 were Britons, 41 Arabs, 17 Jews, and five others.
This means that according to the current rules prevailing in the Israeli judicial system, the Etzel commander Menachem Begin, who personally ordered and supervised this attack, deserved to be sentenced to 91 cumulative life terms - in addition to dozens more life terms for dozens of other killings carried out by Etzel members under Menachem Begin’s command and leadership.
Despite all this - as PM Netanyahu knows very well - Menachem Begin was accounted in Israel to be a gifted parliamentarian and a leader of great stature. The fact that the British government defined him as a terrorist and placed a big prize on his head did not prevent him, at a later stage, from holding a state visit to Britain as Prime Minister of Israel and being received officially at 10 Downing Street. Likewise Yitzhak Shamir, who was likewise designated a terrorist by the British, and who also ultimately held a state visit to Britain as Prime Minister of Israel. All this is not unusual or exceptional - many of the independent states now existing in the world were established by those who took up arms to fight for independence and were therefore considered to be terrorists.
Gush Shalom opposed the show trial of Marwan Barghouti, held in the Tel Aviv court, in which the verdict was clear from the outset. Gush activists, headed by Uri Avnery, at the time carried out protests at the courtroom and were removed by police. But perhaps there was one good result: Marwan Barghouti's long imprisonment has brought him great sympathy among the Palestinian public, bringing him closer to a leadership position in which he could become a partner in making peace with the State of Israel. That is, of course, if and when an Israeli government is formed which is seriously interested in peace and is ready to end the occupation rule in the Palestinian territories.
In themselves, most demands of the hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners are simple and elementary, and there is no reason to reject them. For example, in all prison wings of criminal prisoners held in Israel there are public telephones through which prisoners can regularly speak with their families. This right is given also to cruel murderers and to the leaders of organized crime gangs who are known to be still directing criminal activities even from inside prison. On the other hand, Palestinian prisoners who are defined as "security prisoners" are denied the right to maintain contact with their families by means of a public telephone, even though the prison authorities and security services can monitor all such calls. This increases the motivation to smuggle mobile phones to jail – as was highlighted in the Bassel Ghatas affair.