The new blood of Palestine


For seven years, Yasser Arafat and his inner circle failed to deliver the Palestinians a nation or peace on their terms.


It left people frustrated and angry – a sentiment made even uglier by the corruption in the Palestinian Authority, or the PA, as it`s known.

The intifada has unleashed a younger and more militant leadership, and with it a challenge to the old order. Marwan Barghouti is at the centre of that challenge and says the people will no longer accept the institutions that don`t represent their interests.

MARWAN BARGHOUTI, SECRETARY-GENERAL FATAH, WEST BANK: The intifada changed the rules of the game. First of all, there is not any benefit of the negotiations without the intifada and the resistance on the ground.

41-year-old Barghouti is both popular and powerful because he`s taking the lead in the streets, reshaping the frontline. It`s territory that Yasser Arafat and his older guard no longer occupy and where they are no longer heard.

MARWAN BARGHOUTI: The message of the intifada that the Israeli people have to understand, the Israelis will not feel secure, the Israelis will not live with peace, they will not live in stability or security, without Palestinian independence. If they didn`t put an end to their occupation, including their settlers and their settlements, the Israeli people will not feel secure.

Barghouti`s tough-talking style and no-compromise stance resonates with the Palestinians of the street, who have seen no benefits from the PA or the peace process.

YOUNG MAN: If all the leaders were like him, we`d have done very well. Marwan encourages the intifada to continue but the others just sit around and don`t care at all.

For many Palestinians, the final incident that destroyed any trust they had in the PA came two years ago. This man, former agricultural minister Abdil Jawad Saleh and his parliamentary colleagues tried to warn President Arafat of the consequences if he did not stop the rampant corruption of his officials, many of whom were embezzling money and treating the PA as a cash cow to win contracts and curry favours. Even then, Abdil Jawad Saleh says the PA was losing its credibility fast.

ABDIL JAWAD SALEG, FORMER AGRICULTURAL MINISTER: No accountability, no transparency, no trust in the people, no service for the people. They are getting here, they are coming here to get richer and that`s it.

Their pleas were ignored, so in November 1999 Abdil Jawad Saleh and 20 of his colleagues went public. They released a petition detailing the corruption and demanded that Arafat act. Demonstrations broke out against the Palestinian Authority, but the PA`s response was to send its security forces to arrest nine of their own parliamentarians who signed the petition. They were beaten and imprisoned and one parliamentarian was even shot.

ABDIL JAWAD SALEH: First of all, they condemned us, and the second way, they had beaten me and tortured me. I felt while they were beating me that they want to kill me.

REPORTER: So your own people, your own government was in a sense trying to shut you up?

ABDIL JAWAD SALEH: Yes. Unfortunately, I was really sorry for the young officers who really had beaten me, because all my life was devoted for protecting these kids, really.

Abu Ala`aa, or Ahmed Queri, is the speaker of the PA parliament and the closest person Arafat has to a deputy. He was also Arafat`s key negotiator at the Oslo peace accords. At the time, he condemned the petition of 20, saying they were a destructive force against national unity. He still thinks the claims are exaggerated, but now concedes to some corruption within the PA.

ABU ALA`AA, SPEAKER, PALESTINIAN PARLIAMENT: No doubt, first of all there are mistakes. I cannot say that there are absolute corruption. There are some corruption, there are some people who made a lot of mistakes, and we in the council have, for example, we led a very strong campaign against them, and there are some decision taken against some of them. To fight corruption, even in Australia, it`s a process.

As a PA legislator, Marwan Barghouti condemned the corruption, and he`s now calling for elections to make sure it`s rooted out. He sees it as a kind of life-saving surgery.

MARWAN BARGHOUTI: It`s deep surgery. It`s not like cosmetic surgery. It is deep surgery, and it touch the heart of the peace process and the heart of the Palestinian people and the way of the working of the Authority, and we will see the results in the next months.

REPORTER: Do you think that this deep surgery needs a new style of leadership?

MARWAN BARGHOUTI: Maybe. Maybe, of course. I think the way to see what the people, not my opinion, to go to the election.

Part of Marwan Barghouti`s appeal is that he was born in the Occupied Territories, here in this West Bank village of Kafr Kuber. Much of the leadership that came to set up the Palestinian state, or the PA, had spent 15 years in exile in Tunis with the PLO and came from villages that are now part of Israel. To the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, they were seen as outsiders with excessive lifestyles. Barghouti has maintained the simple lifestyle that he was born into. People see him as a cleanskin, son of a farmer who made good.

MOUQBAL BARGHOUTI, MARWAN`S BROTHER: First, he has credibility. Second, he`s close to the people`s worries and to their problems and is in daily direct contact with the people. If Marwan promises them something, he delivers on his promises.

Barghouti fought for their cause under Israeli occupation, first as an outspoken student leader, then as an organiser of the first intifada in 1987, and for doing so, Barghouti paid the price, with six years in an Israeli jail.

With full-scale conflict looking more likely and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon tightening his economic and military blockade of the West Bank and Gaza, Marwan Barghouti is asking his people to hit back harder. His television addresses to the nation are becoming more frequent as he prepares Palestinians for total war.

MARWAN BARGHOUTI: What is required is an Arab stand. Sharon is not a threat to the Palestinians. As for the part the Palestinians have to play, they`ll do it 10 times over in facing up to Sharon. They will fight him and make sacrifices and make the price of occupation and his aggression very high and they`ll make the Israelis pay that price. Sharon is probably the last bullet in the Israeli gun and we shouldn`t fear it being fired.

This is Marwan Barghouti`s secret army, Tanzim. They show their force at funerals which also become parades of solidarity. Each day, as Tanzim`s power grows, it takes away more and more of the PA`s diminishing authority. Barghouti has built Tanzim into a separate power base whose political cadres work at all levels of society to ensure support for the intifada. Little is known of his workings, and Barghouti intends to keep it this way.

REPORTER: It is a structure, is it? What is its purpose?

MARWAN BARGHOUTI: To lead the Fatah members in every village, in every street, in every refugee camp in the cities, in the universities, in the school, in everywhere.

REPORTER: And do you control Tanzim?

MARWAN BARGHOUTI: No, the Tanzim is not like the army. It`s not like that. The members of the Tanzim are coming to the Tanzim by themselves, voluntarily. They don`t have money for their work – because of national aspirations or national reasons, they came to Fatah, and then came to Tanzim.

And with each victim, the population`s resolve hardens and support galvanises around Barghouti and Tanzim, and President Arafat is growing wary of the power gathering around Marwan Barghouti.

The intifada has created the opportunity for Palestine`s burgeoning democracy movement to surface again, but already much of the Palestinian Authority`s functions have collapsed. Now the NGOs are stepping in to fill the void, providing the essential services and leadership that the PA is failing to give.

The largest NGO is called Palestine Medical Relief. As well as offering medical support on the frontlines, it provides health services to 1 million Palestinians. Mustafa Barghouti is head of the organisation. He is a distant cousin to Marwan Barghouti.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, PLAESTINAIN PEOPLE`S PARTY: There are probably some of the very few structures that remain outside the competition of the Palestinian Authority, and they remain independent and capable of promoting an alternative approach, with proper governance, democratic participation, elections and so forth.

The issue of governance is very much at stake now and people compare, they make comparisons. The Authority had five years. They had the chance to do things and they had full control, and the people were extremely upset during the first weeks of the intifada when they saw that many structures either collapsed or did not function properly. While on the other hand, the grassroots organisations continued to function and actually took upon themselves more responsibilities.

Mustafa Barghouti and his political party, the Palestinian People`s Party, represent the growing middle ground in Palestinian politics. In the most recent poll taken in the West Bank and Gaza by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, only 32% said they supported Yasser Arafat`s political party, Fatah. Hamas polled 19%. But more telling is that almost half of the population said they supported no-one.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: There is a very serious gap, there is a very serious polarisation that is happening between the Authority, which is perceived frequently as inefficient, sometimes as corrupt and so on, and Hamas, which is fundamentalist and extremely traditional. And there is a cry in the Palestinian society for an alternative democratic… for a democratic alternative, for a different approach.

In that sense, I think what we are talking about is something that could become a response to the need of the society, and it`s striking that when people are asked in most recent polls about their opinion, 47.5% say they support nobody. What does that mean? That means they are seeking an alternative, they`re looking for something new. I guess some of us maybe to present a ray of hope in that direction.

Part of Mustafa Barghouti`s appeal is that like Marwan Barghouti, he is close to the people. Every day, Mustafa Barghouti goes out to assess the damage and injury suffered by Palestinian civilians. He says since the start of the intifada, he`s catalogued 15,000 cases of wounded civilians as a consequence of Israeli actions. Today, he`s inspecting a school for the blind on the edge of the West Bank town of Ramallah.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: The bullets went through that wall and came back here. The bullets came from above.

For the last two nights, it`s come under heavy gunfire and shelling from Israeli soldiers guarding Jewish settlements on the hills above. The Israelis say they were responded to Palestinian gunfire. The blind children here have been so traumatised by the experience that most will have to be relocated.

GIRL: We were scared every time we heard the glass falling. We were so scared of the shooting that we didn`t understand what was going on.

INTERPRETER: What happened when you fled?

GIRL: We were falling on top of each other. The big were falling on top of the small. We were so scared. Why do they do this to us and shoot at us? We haven`t done anything to them to make them shoot at us and shell us.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: It was confiscated in the `70s and on the mountain that they confiscated, they built this settlement that oversees the whole city of Ramallah, so they can practically shoot any spot in the whole city. They can shoot any area, any angle, they can practically… we feel the whole population of Ramallah really feel exposed to them.

Mustafa says while the Palestinians are dealing with the struggle against Israeli occupation, they also have another struggle to grapple with – the internal fight for democracy. For him, the dilemma is finding the balance between the two.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: If you say that we are all involved in the national struggle and you shouldn`t care about it, you become hostage to a very centralised, very traditional approach that has the chance of becoming very autocratic. On the other hand, if you say I want just to reform without caring about the fact we are struggling against Israeli occupation, then you could fall into the lines of becoming antagonistic to the public itself. So you have to find the right balance.

It`s a balance the PA hasn`t found. It`s effectively a one-man, one-party system. Arafat controls all executive, legislative and judicial powers. The PA parliament has been literally gathering dust. In the last six months, it has only had two poorly attended meetings. The speaker of the house, Abu Ala`aa, blames the Israelis for this situation.

ABU ALA`AA: We are unable to bring all the members in one meeting to go through our normal life as a parliamentarian. We have many laws which have not been discussed in the council because I am unable to call the assembly in one place for a meeting. The Israelis are forbidding the members of the council to move from their places to Ramallah, for example, and therefore we are facing a problem.

But an alternative people`s assembly has formed, effectively replacing the role of the PA parliament, debating problems and finding solutions. Mustafa Barghouti and his political party have been instrumental in setting it up. The hope is that it will act as a kind of transitional government until elections can be called.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: We have to immediately implement election approach. There is no way, no alternative, but democratic free elections for all bodies and all structures. This is the only way you can allow people to participate. It`s the only way to activate the political system.

Marwan Barghouti has gone one step further. He has declared an alternative government, an intifada government, but has stopped short of putting himself at the head of it. He sees it as the only way of achieving democracy.

MARWAN BARGHOUTI: We succeeded now to create the united leadership for the intifada, and all the factions are participate in these leadership in Gaza and the West Bank, including Jerusalem. Now, what we are trying to do to push up this achievement, which is called the nation between all the factions in the issue of intifada and the activities of the intifada, to push up for a new step to create the government of the intifada and to allow all the Palestinian factions to participate in this government, national government.

In Yasser Arafat`s absence from the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti, Mustafa Barghouti and others have been acting more and more independently, challenging Arafat`s rule. Today, Arafat is coming to the West Bank for the first time in five months to reassert his authority and a flagging peace process. Yasser Arafat is given a presidential welcome – from his base in Gaza, Arafat has to fly via Jordan to get to the West Bank because of the Israeli occupation.

With the older guard leadership at his side, Arafat announces the purpose of his visit is to meet with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and explore the possibility of reviving a peace process.

YASSER ARAFAT: President Bush told me recently that he will continue the work of his father and President Clinton. We hope that the planned visit by Mr Powell will be the start of this American move.

But Marwan Barghouti has organised two days of rage to protest against the meeting between Colin Powell and Arafat. Barghouti has called for the US to step aside and allow a greater international role in the peace process. And Barghouti has the added strength of the hardline Palestinian-Islamic factions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who have joined his intifada government. The message is clear – they want the Americans out and the Israelis to withdraw.

Inside, as Arafat and Powell pose for the international press, Barghouti`s crowd threatens to march on the parade. Barghouti struggles to restrain the crowd, and for a moment it looks like he has lost control. They want a sit-in, demanding that Powell leave immediately.

MARWAN BARGHOUTI: If you want to sit here and shout slogans, fine. If you want to continue to the roadblock…then the roadblock it is!

Eventually, calm is restored.

After a meeting of two hours, Arafat and Powell confirm that the US and the PA are both committed to a speedy return to the peace process. Arafat tells reporters that the US must continue its involvement in the region.

COLIN POWELL, US SECRETARY OF STATE: We discussed how it is necessary for all sides to move away from violence and incitement, and how it is necessary to lift the siege as soon as possible so that economic activity can begin again in the region. The challenge is how to get the process started – who puts the first key in the door and starts to turn the locks? And that still is a difficult challenge, but one that I think both PM-elect Sharon and the Chairman are dedicating to finding the answer for.

But outside, it`s a different story. The man who controls the intifada in the West Bank is defiant. He will not end the violence from the Palestinian side. The man of the street answers the obvious contradiction between his stand and that of his leader, Yasser Arafat, in this way.

MARWAN BARGHOUTI: The political leadership can make the move it wants, but at the same time, there is the public opinion of the Palestinian people, which is expressed by these mass rallies aimed at denouncing the aggressive American policy against Iraq, Palestine and the Arab nation.

Once again, Barghouti dictated to Arafat how the people were feeling. A week after he left the West Bank, Arafat came out in support of Barghouti`s hard line. Then, when US President George W. Bush called for Arafat to stop the violence, many wondered whether he was talking to the right man.

The question of Arafat`s ascension is not a matter for public discussion. Arafat is still the symbol of Palestinian unity. Marwan Barghouti`s growing popularity is a dilemma for Arafat, who is not used to sharing power. Barghouti says he is loyal and is just representing the people, but does Arafat view Barghouti as a threat? Perhaps his greeting to Marwan on arriving in the West Bank offers a clue. In Arabic, it`s a deliberate putdown.

YASSER ARAFAT: I don`t remember him. Who is this brother? Who is this brother?

As head of security in Gaza, Mohammad Dahlan is a very powerful person. When the Israelis call for Arafat to end the violence, this is the man that can do it. At only 38, he is considered the brightest of the younger leadership within Arafat`s inner circle.

MOHAMMAD DAHLAN, PREVENTATIVE SECURITY, GAZA: This Israeli government and the majority of its members are extremists. At the same time, we don`t want to pre-empt events. It may be possible to reach an agreement with this government, even though if we look at the names of its members, they are persons who call for violence and war more than they do for peace.

Dahlan is in charge of the PA`s armed, forces but in no way is he going to use them to stop any Palestinian violence, as Sharon is demanding. Dahlan grew up with the reality of Israeli occupation of the territories and was a leader in the first intifada in 1987. As one of Arafat`s senior advisors, he told Arafat not to take what was on offer at Camp David last year. Like Marwan Barghouti, Dahlan will not compromise on a full Israeli withdrawal, and unlike Arafat has embraced the idea of an intifada government.

MOHAMMAD DAHLAN: We`ve been coexisting for five months. Things are simple and easy. When it`s an aggression against the Palestinian people, the Palestinian people unite and don`t wrangle over political opinions.

Arafat`s refusal to share leadership is legendary. He`s been in firm control for 30 years. Leaders who become a real threat are sidelined or demoted, as Hannan Ashrawi knows. The world saw her as a potential leader, but she fell out with Arafat when he was setting up the PA. She hopes this time, Arafat will utilise the talents of the emerging leadership and not rely on the older guard.

HANNAN ASHRAWI, MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT: In some sense, I think he`s captive of his own sense of loyalty to individuals, that people have stood by him or who are members of his team he will continue to maintain, even if they make mistakes and violate their trust or the confidence. So, I told him if you want to reward loyalty, there is such a thing as medals, or even symbolic posts, but don`t let them run people`s lives.

MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI: They had a very serious problem distinguishing between their role as a liberation movement and their role as a government. When they should have acted as a government, in terms of organising the life of the society and imposing the rule of law and allowing people`s participation, they continued to act as if they were living in a revolution.

When Yasser Arafat received the Nobel Peace Prize, he was indisputably the legitimate leader of the Palestinian people. But with the failure of the peace process and the PA`s increasing irrelevancy, he`s now using Palestinian leaders to renew his own legitimacy.

HANNAN ASHRAWI: For a long time, I`ve been telling him that the people he has chosen and the way they work, that they have become a liability for the people and for his work and for his standing. So I think if he sees that there are people who are genuine, who are not challenging him, but who are challenging a system that hasn`t worked, and maybe he can even move ahead and co-opt, if you call them the new leadership, or let`s say the popular leadership, having a government change, reform. We`ve been asking for this for a long time.

Many people believe many people believe that without Arafat, peace will prove more elusive. Arafat is the only person that can negotiate for all Palestinians and deliver his people a nation. What Israel and the world fear is that his succession may lead to competing factions and hardline approaches. But Palestine`s new leaders are calling for democracy and reform. And what they want the world to realise is that without it, there will be no lasting peace, no real development for the Palestinians, and violence and suffering will continue.