Evidently, some Palestinian prisoners don’t evoke Harriet Sherwood’s sympathy

Sympathetic portrayals of Palestinian terrorists serving sentences in Israeli jails are something of a specialty for the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood, and her Nov. 18 report about suspected al-Qaeda terrorist Samir al-Baraq (Palestinian held without trial takes case to Supreme Court) continues in this tradition.


Samir al-Baraq

Sherwood begins:

Israel‘s supreme court is set to rule on the continued detention of a Palestinian man accused of being an al-Qaida member who has been held in an Israeli jail without charge or trial for more than three years.

Samir al-Baraq has demanded to be released from “administrative detention”, the system by which Israel keeps security suspects locked up without going through a normal judicial process. The Israeli authorities are seeking a further six-month extension to the detention order.

Israel says Baraq, a Palestinian born in Kuwait, is a biological weapons expert who was planning attacks against Israeli targets when he was arrested in July 2010 while attempting to enter the country from Jordan.

According to court documents, Baraq studied microbiology in Pakistan, underwent military training in Afghanistan and was recruited in 2001 to al-Qaida by Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is the group’s leader today. In 2003, he spent three months in Guantánamo Bay, the US high-security jail in Cuba, and later spent five years in prison in Jordan.

Later in her report, she quotes Baraq’s lawyer:

Baraq’s lawyer, Mahmid Saleh, told Army Radio: “If he is such a senior terrorist, then why hasn’t he been prosecuted? There is no evidence against him.”

However, in addition to the fact that administrative detention is a widely used judicial method for dealing with suspected terrorists in other democratic countries, Ynet published a more detailed report about the case on the same day that Sherwood’s piece ran, and there seems to be little doubt about Baraq’s desire to engage in violent jihad.

In 1998, Samir Abed Latif al-Baraq was a BA student in biology in Pakistan when he decided to become an ‘a-aa’dar’ and start planning for a jihad that he believed would soon begin. He went to an Islamist militants’ camp in Afghanistan and tried to convince some of his friends to go with him. It was the first of many training camps in which he would spend time in upcoming years, training to become a terrorist.

The records [interrogation transcripts from the defense establishment which Ynet obtained], shed light on the path that he chose, and how he managed to make use of his academic education to become a member of al-Qaeda’s mysterious “biological project,” and not just a regular terrorist.

When he got to the camp in Afghanistan, he and his friends quickly learned how to operate weapons and how to make and use poisons, such as cyanide. In the summer of 1998, on his way back to Pakistan, he started talking about an attack on Israel for the first time.

When the interrogators asked him about this, he responded: “Yes, this is true

Baraq also reportedly told his interrogators quite explicitly in how he planned to kill Jews.

Beyond the specifics of the case, such ubiquitous stories at the Guardian about Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prison stand in stark contrast to the dearth of stories about Palestinians prisoners in Arab countries.  Moreover, whilst Palestinian prisoners in Israel are treated as heroes by the Palestinian Authority, the PA (per a recent story by Khaled Abu Toameh) has “long been ignoring the fact that thousands of Palestinians are languishing in prisons in several Arab countries,” including in Kuwait, the country of birth for Sherwood’s Palestinian protagonist.

Toameh’s report includes the following:

The families of the prisoners held by Israel at least know where their sons are and most visit them on a regular basis.  But in the Arab world the story is completely different.  The daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi recently revealed that dozens of Palestinians have been held in Kuwaiti prisons since 1991. The families of these prisoners do not know anything about their conditions.

Kuwait expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians after U.S.-led coalition forces liberated the tiny oil-rich emirate in 1991. The move came in retaliation for the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s [PLO] support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait a year earlier

After liberation, the Kuwaitis also arrested many Palestinians on suspicion of collaboration with the Iraqi occupation army.

Recently, the Kuwaitis finally allowed the Palestinian Authority to reopen the Palestinian embassy in the emirate. The move came after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas apologized for the PLO’s support of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

But the Palestinian Authority leadership is apparently too afraid to ask the Kuwaiti authorities about the Palestinians who went missing in the emirate during the past two decades. Abbas does not want to alienate the Kuwaitis; he is apparently hoping that they will resume financial aid to the Palestinians.

Hundreds of Palestinians are held in various prisons in Syria, some for more than two decades. In the past year, at least two prisoners were reported to have died in Syrian and Egyptian prisons.

Again, the Palestinian Authority leadership has not even demanded an inquiry into the deaths or the continued incarceration of Palestinians in the Arab world.

A prominent Palestinian writer who spent three weeks in jail in Syria described the prisons there as “human slaughterhouses.” Salameh Kaileh [a Palestinian intellectual] was arrested in April last year on suspicion of printing leaflets calling for the overthrow of Bashar Assad.

“It was hell on earth,” Kaileh told Associated Press. “I felt I was going to die under the brutal, savage and continuous beating of the interrogators, who tied me to ropes hung from the ceiling.”

Salameh Kaileh

Salameh Kaileh

Toameh concluded thus:

For the Palestinian Authority, the plight of Palestinians in Arab prisons does not seem to be an important issue. As far as the Palestinian Authority leadership is concerned, the only “heroes” are those prisoners who are held in Israel. For the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians who are being tortured and killed in Arab prisons are not worth even a statement.

And, neither is their plight deemed worth a story, or evidently even viewed sympathetically, by Harriet Sherwood.

17 replies »

  1. Good story.
    It is nice you didn’t went into details about the training al Baraq received in Afghanistan.
    They tested home made poisons on dogs, which in itself testifies as to this man’s moral compass.

    He said he met Al Zawahri and Al Zarqawi knowing full well who they are what they do and what is their goal.
    This alone should flag up a dangerous man.

    And this is what the Palestinians themselves have to say about him:
    “A Palestinian security official told Ynet: “Al-Baraq is well known to the Palestinian defense establishment. He was arrested by the Jordanian central intelligence and they are the ones who ‘supposedly’ released him, knowing he would pass through Allenby. He is a very dangerous man.”

    Enough said.

    • Al-Baraq would be better shot while trying to escape. Or perhaps used as a test bed for some home-made poisons spiced with sewage water.

      A truly disgusting person that humanity would be safer without.

      • I don’t disagree with the second part of your comment, NS, but I do with the first (although I recognise that it is somewhat tongue in cheek). Of course, that is not how Israel treats those in captivity who have offended against her.

  2. On another note Khaled Abu Toameh is one of the better journalists out there.
    He keeps it relevant, accurate and impartial.
    Many reporters in the Guardian needs to remind themselves what journalism is about.
    The fact is that they sit in a comfertable zone not threatened and yet produce poor work in comparison to Khaled.

  3. Pretty sure Adam knows how I feel about Glenn Greenwald so I find this piece taking me back. Sometimes during one of his anti-Israel screeds, I used to comment at Salon about Palestinians held/tortured/expelled/executed in Kuwait; murdered in Iraq; killed in Lebanese camps; Black September, etc. etc.

    Funny how he never replied and continued to focus his utterly warped ire on Israel, Israel, Israel. A monumental self-hater if ever there was. He (and plenty others of his ilk) will write about THOSE Palestinians when giraffes, pigs, hippos (you get the idea), fly.

    Like many in the world, unless Israel is involved, these people could give a f*ck about Palestinians.

    • Rob,
      It’s called racism.
      Glen obviously holds the Israelis to a higher degree.
      Otherwise he would expect the Arabs to be held accountable for their behaviour, and rightly so.
      They’re not kids or half wits.
      They are normal people that many in the world excuse.
      These excuses only give more power to the murderers who commit these crimes while the ordinary person on the street feels helpless.
      wheels goes round and round.

      • That Glenn is a racist, there is some proof. Read some of his early pieces where he ranted about “endless hordes” of Mexicans pouring over the border or the “parade of evils” caused by illegal immigration. Or go back further to his days as a lawyer when he defended infamous neo-Nazi, Matt Hale, (which is perfectly fine) but went out of his way to gratuitously attack both hate crime victims (blacks and Jews) and the civil rights lawyers who’d taken up the victims’ cases. Or fast forward to this year when he lent his support to a far-right militia group.

        So given this past/present, in the case of the Palestinians, I suspect he’s projecting his own deep-seated animus toward Muslims (that and after 9/11, he wanted to “exact vengeance,” on them). Not to mention his clear infantilization of all involved. Except, of course, Israelis.

  4. Yes, Abbas indeed no doubt fears incurring the displeasure of the Kuwaitis for pressing them on Palestinian prisoners.
    But still: add this to a long list of issues (such as naming streets after/giving generous pensions to convicted murderers) that I’d like to see put to Abbas in an interview.

    • He’ll only start talking about Northern Ireland and South Africa to distract you…
      But good idea never the less. Let hm sweat!

    • Well spotted. I presume you mean the “captivity within captivity” line.

      Waiting for Sherwood’s next creature-comfort update on Israeli zoos.

    • Good one Brian!

      But hang on; What about this?

      “…to Gaza’s ballooning population…”

      How can a concentration camp’s population be balooning with all the starvation, lack of medication and war crimes?

      Last time I checked Warsaw ghetto’s population only balooned once and it was when some occupants were moved into it right at the begining.
      Maybe, those who compare Gaza to a ghetto means a concentration camp where trains bringing more and more inmates can baloon the population?

      Last time I checked the “last train to Gaza” left before the ELO were formed.

      • “…to Gaza’s ballooning population…”

        Is she calling for “lebensraum?”

        She has no problem with the smuggling of these animals (or rockets). How can a place with so much poverty, starvation and misery afford to have so many zoos? With all the problems that Gaza has, a journalist might have questions as to why they can have zoos and concrete for terror tunnels but no electricity or sewage treatment. But not Harriet.

        • The cubs died this morning.
          Not surprise, but I’m pretty sure it will be Israel’s fault one way or another…