About a month ago, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti was invited to the Italian Consulate in Jerusalem to receive a citation of honor from the government of Italy. The consulate submitted requests to the Israeli authorities for 15 entry permits to Jerusalem, for Barghouti and another 14 guests - family members and friends. The consulate was informed that 14 permits were issued. Only Barghouti did not receive a permit, he relates with a laugh.
Ever since March 2007, upon the establishment of the Palestinian unity government, the Civil Administration has not granted Barghouti - a physician by profession - entry permits to the Gaza Strip. A member of the Legislative Council for the National Initiative list that he established, Barghouti was the information minister in that short-lived unity government.
For the past three months he has not been receiving entry permits for Jerusalem either. He estimates that he has requested entry into Jerusalem 12 or 13 times. For the most part, it was European diplomats who invited him to meetings, and it was they who submitted the request for the permit. On one occasion it was Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz.
The Shin Bet security service has told Haaretz in response that "Mustafa Barghouti is forbidden to enter Israel, and this is because of, among other things, his connections with terror activists and activity on behalf of a terror organization, and with no connection to his membership in the National Initiative list in the Legislative Council."
As in thousands of other cases of individuals denied freedom of movement, the Shin Bet seems to be revealing a small glimpse while concealing the whole picture. It feels confident in firing off its standard reply because the majority in the Jewish society of Israel backs it and is convinced that the organization is guided by pure, objective and professional security considerations. It is convinced that Shin Bet officers are devoid of personal and bullying motives, and that they are either not influenced by a wink from the political echelon or that it is not possible that they have been ordered or advised to suit the political excuse to a political intention.
In Israel, most of the public is convinced: If a person does not get a travel permit of any sort, the Shin Bet has conclusive proof that he is dangerous. So maybe it is a blunder by the Shin Bet and the Israel Defense Forces that Mustafa Barghouti moves freely back and forth to Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron like tens of thousands of other people "prohibited for security reasons?" Because what can the layman conclude? That a person who "is active for a terror organization" must be apprehended, if only for questioning. But Barghouti has not been arrested, even when during Ramadan he tried to enter Jerusalem when Israeli authorities allowed all people over 50 to enter the city. He was delayed for three hours at the checkpoint and sent back, even though he is "active on behalf of a terrorist organization."
The travel permits are a way to tell Palestinian public figures exactly whom the Israeli patron wants to honor. Whose politics is tolerated, whose is legitimate and whose is intolerable. With no connection to the electoral weakness of Barghouti's National Initiative, the messages that are linked with his name are clear, resonant and popular: Hamas and Fatah have to get down off their high horses, rectify the serious mistakes they have made in recent months, and get back on the path of unity to fight the occupation. Popular struggle - along the separation fence, against the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories and against the apartheid roads - is the most effective means, which involves the entire society.
Only last Friday, Barghouti, with hundreds of Palestinian activists and a hundred Israelis, took part in a demonstration against Road 443, which is blocked to Palestinians. Barghouti is frequently interviewed by foreign journalists because of his eloquence, and he is exactly the person who will stick pins in balloons that are inflated with false optimism on the progress of the negotiations because the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating chiefs - Ahmed Qureia and Tzipi Livni - have managed to come up with procedures for convening the committee that will discuss "the core issues."
His messages interfere with the new taming course that Israel is trying to give the Palestinian Authority's high officials. Its main lesson is how to nurture the rupture with Hamas and how to swallow the frog of the settlements. And this is what makes Barghouti a thorn in the side of the Shin Bet.