On Tuesday 1st April Ahmed Kathrada came to speak at the House of Commons. He called on members of the All Party Parliamentary Britain-Palestine group and the invited guests to join the campaign to free Marwan Barghouti, Palestine’s most significant political prisoner.
The meeting was organised by the All Party Parliamentary Britain-Palestine group and Palestine Briefing, timed just after the expected release of the fourth group of Palestine’s political prisoners from Israeli prisons.
Ahmed Kathrada – like the man he was there to talk about – is of huge symbolic importance for Palestine solidarity. The man who began the first campaign – in the 1960s – to free Nelson Mandela, a man regarded by the majority of the western world as a terrorist at the time – only to be jailed himself for many years. Ahmed Kathrada has shown huge personal, political and physical courage over his long life and heading up the campaign to free Marwan Barghouti.
He spoke about when Mandela was released from prison and was advised to break ties with the Palestine Liberation Organisation and few other liberation groups. Mandela refused, saying “when we came to you for help you disowned us as terrorists. It would be ungrateful of us to disown them now.”
Mr Kathrada told us of how he took Fadwa Barghouti, Marwan’s wife and Fateh Council member, to the cell in Robben Island that Nelson Mandela had occupied.
Ahmed Kathrada said he very much hoped the campaign to free Marwan Barghouti “will take on the proportions of the Free Nelson Mandela campaign.”
Mr Kathrada recounted how in 1985 Mandela was taken away and isolated by the Apartheid South African authorities. But during this time Mandela took the bold step of starting to talk to the Government. He told them that negotiations would be impossible until they:
- released the political prisoners
- removed the ban on political organization
- allowed exiles to return
It took time but eventually the authorities acceded to all those demands.
Palestinian Ambassador, Professor Manuel Hassassian, delivered a powerful speech, thanking Ahmed Kathrada for his presence. He pointed out that in fact pre-Oslo prisoners were meant to be released as part of the Oslo process, so in fact Israel has now failed to honour its commitment to free them several times. This prisoner release was not part of the Kerry plan, but was in fact agreed before that: the Palestinian leadership agreed not to go to the UN bodies and the ICC in exchange for the release of the prisoners.
The Ambassador said it was right that Marwan should be the symbol for the struggle to release the Palestinian prisoners because of his outstanding popularity and he is the uncontested symbol of the Palestinian prisoners.
The invited audience included many notable individuals including: Afif Safieh from Fateh’s council, Betty Hunter Honorary President of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ziad El Aloul from Palestinian Forum of Britain, Aimee Shalan from Medical Aid for Palestinians.
Afif Safieh talked about the moving first meeting between Yasser Arafat and Nelson Mandela, and how Mandela had said the liberation of South Africa was incomplete without the Palestinians.
It was notable what a strong presence of Palestinians there was in the audience, which is perhaps not surprising as Marwan Barghouti polls as the most popular Palestinian politician within the West Bank and Gaza. But Marwan Barghouti has been explicit himself that this is a campaign for all the political prisoners, of which he is a symbol.
Free Marwan Barghouti!