Mustafa Barghouti

Mustafa 2

Mustafa Barghouti is a Palestinian politician and activist. He and I sat down for an interview in August 2012 in his office on the edge of Ramallah. Listen to our conversation here:


I had been looking forward to our rendezvous. We had managed to connect by phone on a couple of occasions,  long distance, but each time our chat would end up being aborted. The last time this happened, Barghouti was at a peaceful demonstration at Israel’s Qualandia checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, and would have to hang up as Israeli tear gas, sewage water and rubber bullets began to fly.

In preparation for our face-to-face interview this past August — sitting on the balcony of my Tel Aviv hotel room — I gave Mustafa’s cell phone a ring. As if it couldn’t have been predicted, the voice that answered was tense and distracted. It sounded like Mustafa was chastising a student over some medical mishap (Barghouti is a cardiologist). Should I phone back, I asked? Yes, he replied.

Ten minutes later, on the phone once more, Mustafa explained: He had been at an Israeli checkpoint on the northern edge of Ramallah, and an Israeli soldier had refused to let him pass. Click on the audio file beneath the above photo to hear how the impasse ended.

Mustafa Barghouti was born in January 1954 in Jerusalem (a hometown Israeli authorities refuse to let him enter). He studied medicine there, and in the former Soviet Union, and received a degree in management from Stanford University, in the U.S.  In 1979, Barghouti founded the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees. He got involved in formal politics. In 1991, in the wake of the largely peaceful First Intifada, he attended the Madrid Conference that would culminate in the 1994 Oslo Accords.

Oslo would be a source of deep disenchantment for independent Palestinians outside the entrenched inner circle of the PLO and its dominant party, Fatah. In 2002 — together with Haidar Abdel-Shafi, Ibrahim Dakkak and Edward Said — Barghouti helped found the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) as an alternative to Fatah and its radical Islamist rival, Hamas. He is currently the PNI’s General Secretary.

Political and civil engagement in Occupied Palestine comes at a cost. At a 1996 encounter between Palestinian protesters and IDF troops, Barghouti was lucky to receive shrapnel in his shoulder rather than his head. While under arrest following a peaceful East Jerusalem demonstration, in 2003, Israeli soldiers broke his knee with a rifle butt.

But Barghouti has persevered. He competed against Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas in 2005 presidential elections, and came in second with 19% of the vote. In January 2006, he won a seat on the Palestinian Legislative Council. As PLC legislator and General Secretary of one of its most respected independent parties, Barghouti was recently asked to  facilitate Palestinian unity efforts. A thankless task.

Mustafa Barghouti’s civil society work may provide an antidote to frustrations of this sort. His greatest faith is in the power of independent, broadly-based and peaceful Palestinian activism. It’s hard to imagine a more promising strategy for achieving Palestinian statehood.

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