Marwan Barghouti was born in 1958 in Ramallah and is married to the lawyer Fadwa Barghouti. They have four children.
M. Barghouti has been part of Fatah since he was fifteen years old.
Sentenced by Israel in 1976 to eighteen years of imprisonment for involvement in a Palestinian uprising, he learned Hebrew during his incarceration. Upon his release, he returned to the West Bank and studied at Beir Zeit University and obtained a master’s degree in history, political science and a postgraduate diploma in international relations.
Later, Mr. Barghouti became a major political leader of the first intifada in the Gaza Strip. He was arrested in 1987 by the Israeli army and deported to Jordan from where he could only come back after the signing of the Oslo agreements in 1994. He was elected to the Legislative Council of Palestine in 1996 where he defended the need for peace with Israel, proposing Israeli-Palestinian meetings and the establishment of a parliamentary Israeli-Palestinian friendship group to the members of several parties in the Knesset. Mr. Barghouti also took an active part in the fight against corruption and promoting economic and social justice, human rights and equality between men and women.
Mr. Barghouti rapidly got a higher position within Fatah and became secretary-general for the West Bank. He started being very popular among Palestinians thanks to his role during the second Intifada as head of the armed wing of Fatah. This armed wing then diversified through a sub-group called the Brigades of Martyrs of Al-Aqsa, running suicide bombings in Israel and against Israeli settlements. The assumed role of Mr. Barghouti in the campaign of suicide bombings against Israel led him to become one of the most wanted Palestinians by Israel. In 2001, he thwarts an assassination attempt prepared by the Israeli army, but on 15 April 2002, the Hebrew State arrested him and charged him in a civilian court for murders and an attempted murder in a terrorist enterprise under his command. If the Palestinians arrested for acts of « resistance » are usually tried in military courts, in the case of Mr. Barghouti who is a MP, Israel had to submit to foreign pressure and highlight the legal credibility of the trial.
However, throughout his trial, Mr. Barghouti refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli court and to defend himself. He said he supports armed attacks against the Israeli occupation but does not endorse the attacks against civilians in the territory of Israel. He was sentenced on May 20 for five murders in 2004 through an armed group. Mr. Barghouti was also convicted of an attempted murder for a suicide bomber foiled by Israeli security forces. He claimed to be innocent and was acquitted of 21 counts of murder in the course of 33 attacks but on June 6th, Mr. Barghouti was sentenced to five life sentences for five murders and 40 years in prison for attempted murder.
After the death of Yasser Arafat, Mr. Barghouti has been seen as a potential successor. His image was not touched by corruption accusations unlike many figures of the old guard of Fatah during the Arafat years. However, Barghouti was not a member of the executive bodies of Fatah and the PLO, and he was not in the official line of succession while Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei embodied the Palestinian political system.
In December 2005, Marwan Barghouti announced the creation of a new party, Al-Mustaqbal. Mainly constituted by members of Fatah’s Young guard, it represents a real threat to the party of Mahmoud Abbas, directly benefiting Hamas. For this last reason, the announcement did not materialize and Barghouti decided to campaign for the fatah from his prison cell. This episode was seen by many as a warning from the Young Guard against corruption affecting the establishment or the party’s.
During the winter 2009 Marwan Barghouti returned to the limelight not only because many media consider that there may be an « exchange » of prisoners between Gilad Shalit and Mr. Barghouti (According to the Israeli daily Maariv, many Israeli officials would support its release which would be already planned as part of a deal with Hamas for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit), but also because the former leader enjoys a growing popularity among the Palestinian population and could enable the Palestinian society to regain some unity. His imprisonment did not prevent him from remaining a figure in Palestinian politics. From his cell, he helped negotiating a unilateral truce between armed Palestinian groups and Israel in 2003. Moreover, the silence of the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the operation conducted by Israel against Gaza in December / January 2009 has often been compared with Mr Barghouti’s numerous speeches from prison.
« I call on all Palestinian organizations, all national forces in their diversity to unite to face the aggression and to overcome all the differences because the Israeli attack targets the entire Palestinian people, aiming at destroying its determination. Fatah and its members are part of the battle to cope with the aggression” he said.
Enjoying a great popularity while his own movement has partly lost its legitimacy in the eyes of Palestinians since the Annapolis conference, Mr. Barghouti could now give a new impetus to Fatah.
During the sixth Congress of Fatah, held in Bethlehem in early August 2009, Marwan Barghouti was elected to the Central Committee, representing the more significant role left to the Young Guard in the party‘s leadership.
In addition to his positive image among the Palestinians, Marwan Barghouti may be seen as a key player by Israel: he actively participated to the development of the « Call of the prisoners » in 2006 calling for a Palestinian National union government, he speaks fluent Hebrew and is above all a politician who had accepted the Oslo agreements in 1993.
He could become the partner for peace the Israelis say they are looking for. His popularity is such today that former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security, believe that the man who is sometimes called the « Palestinian Mandela » would be more « useful » outside of prison than inside.