Al-Nahda Chairman Rached Al-Ghannouchi At Tunis Conference In Support Of Palestinian Prisoners: 'Allah, Grant Me Martyrdom At Jerusalem's Doorstep'
On November 10-11, 2012, Tunisia hosted the "International Conference in Support of Palestinian Prisoners in the Jails of the Zionist Occupation," under the auspices of Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. Present at the conference were hundreds of freed Palestinian prisoners from Gaza and the West Bank, among them Ahlam Al-Tamimi, the female terrorist who was involved in August 9, 2001 suicide bombing at the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem and who was freed under the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange,and Islamic Jihad operative Mahmoud Al-Sarsak, who was released following his three-month hunger strike. Also in attendance were Palestinian senior officials from various factions unaffiliated with the PA, such as 'Atallah Abu Al-Sabah, minister of prisoners affairs for the Hamas government in Gaza, as well as other Palestinian public figures, including Palestinian National Initiative party leader Mustafa Barghouti, PLO cofounder Farouq Al-Qaddoumi, and Raed Salah, the head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, known for his criticism of Palestinian Authority policy.
At the conference, Tunisian leaders expressed their support for the liberation of Palestine. Rached Al-Ghannouchi, leader of the Islamic Al-Nahda party, that heads the ruling coalition in Tunisia, even declared his readiness to die as a "martyr" on Jerusalem's doorstep.
The conference concluded with a decision to establish an office in Tunisia that would monitor the issue of the Palestinian prisoners, work to improve their conditions of imprisonment and to facilitate their release, and raise awareness for their cause in the international arena. Agreement was also reached to work against normalization with Israel.
The PA boycotted the conference on the grounds that it had not been invited as the official representative of the Palestinian people, but only as a guest. The decision to boycott the conference may have come in protest over Tunisia's policy, which favors the Hamas government over the PA. This policy is indicative of the PA's gradual enfeeblement, which began some time ago with Hamas's takeover of Gaza and the stalemate in the diplomatic process (though recently the PA has bounced back following its successful U.N. bid for "non-member observer state" status).
"Tunisian International Conference in Support of Prisoners in Jails of the Zionist Occupation – Under the Auspices of the Presidency of the Republic"
Calls To Liberate Palestine, Revoke Oslo Accords
At the conference, Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki emphasized the importance his people placed on the Palestinian issue: "Palestine is present in the hearts and minds of the Tunisian men and women. It will continue to occupy a special place [there] until it is liberated..." Marzouki said that the blood of the Tunisians and Palestinians had mingled during the "Hammam Al-Shat massacre."
The conferees voiced slogans in support of the right of return and the liberation of Palestine, delivered speeches honoring Jerusalem and the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, and called to revoke the Oslo Accords. They also reiterated Hamas Prime Minister Isma'il Haniya's call, during his December 2011 visit to Tunisia, not to recognize Israel. Participants in the conference carried placards saying "The People Want to Liberate Palestine"; "No to Reconciliation [with Israel], No to Recognition [of Israel], No to Negotiations"; and "Palestine Is Arab, the First Qibla [direction of prayer], and the Key Issue."
Attending the conference: Farouq Al-Qadoummi, Moncef Marzouki, Raed Salah (left to right)
Rached Al-Ghannouchi: Allah, Grant Me Martyrdom At Jerusalem's Doorstep
In a phone conversation with freed Palestinian prisoner Khader 'Adnan on the margins of the Tunis conference, Rached Al-Ghannouchi said: "Allah, permit me to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque, or [grant] me martyrdom at Jerusalem's doorstep." He went on to emphasize that the prisoners are "our crowning glory, and standing by them is essential."
The day prior to the conference, the first gathering of the Maghreb Center for Development of Jerusalem was held in Tunis; participants included Islamic politicians from the Maghreb and freed Palestinian prisoners who had been on board the Mavi Marmara. Al-Ghannouchi said at this gathering: "Every day, the ummah is getting closer to the liberation of Jerusalem and Palestine..." He then called on the Arab and Muslim peoples to "awaken and actualize your ideological, economic, cultural, and military might, so as to cause the West to back away from its support for the Zionist entity."
Al-Ghannouchi (on right) with Raed Salah
Who Represents The Palestinians?
The extension of a conference invitation to the minister of prisoners affairs in the Gaza Hamas government revived the question of the representation of the Palestinians – that is, whether the PA is their sole representative, or whether Hamas is as well. This comes against the backdrop of Hamas leaders' meetings with Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi several months ago and Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Aal Thani's October 23, 2012 visit to Gaza, which were resented by the PA. The question of who represents the Palestinians was also in the background during the visit to Gaza by Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil and representatives of other Arab countries during Operation Pillar of Defense.
The PA rejected the invitation to attend the Tunisia conference as a guest, and its representatives expressed their displeasure to the Tunisian ambassador in Ramallah. PA Prisoners Affairs Minister 'Issa Qaraqi' said, "We will not participate in the Palestinian prisoners conference because it is partisan." He clarified that the PA and the PLO had not received an official invitation, and that the PA would not send representatives as a sign of protest, adding that the conference was a framework for private agendas that perpetuate the Fatah-Hamas schism, and that it served the prisoners not at all.
PA Deputy Prisoners Affairs Minister Ziyad Abu 'Ein said: "The organizers of the conference deliberately refrained from giving a central role to the official [Palestinian] institutions [i.e. the PA], and marginalized them [by treating them] as guests like all the other guests." He was careful to point out that there was no worsening of relations between Tunisia and the PA, and that the Tunisian government had acted to officially invite the PA, but that the organizing committee had deviated from its wishes.
Fatah Central Committee member 'Azzam Al-Ahmad said: "Since most of the prisoners are Fatah members, anyone who fails to invite Fatah to the prisoners conference and does not involve the members of the movement in the preparation and organization [of the conference] is exploiting the suffering of the Palestinians for cheap interests and benefit."
A Tunisian government source expressed regret about the PA's failure to attend the conference, even criticizing it, saying, "This arouses apprehensions regarding the future of the [Palestinian] Authority, in light of its ongoing neglect of the important affairs of the Palestinian people." He added that the PA was not only absent, but had even instructed its embassy in Tunisia to close the Palestinian cemetery in Hammam Al-Shat, Tunisia, where dozens of Palestinians are buried.
Al-Ghannouchi (second from left) with the Hamas government's minister for freed prisoners in Gaza (third from left) and officials from his office.
 See MEMRI TV Clip No. 3539, Released Hamas Terrorist Ahlam Tamimi on Palestinian Public's Delight at Suicide Bombings, July 12, 2012, and MEMRI TV Clip No. 3157, Released Terrorist Ahlam Tamimi, Sentenced to 16 Life Terms in Prison, Takes Pride in the Number of Casualties She Caused and Proclaims: I Would Do It Again Today, October 19, 2011.
 Safa.ps, November 10, 2012.
 Congres-asra.com, November 12, 2012.
 See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis Series Report No.788, Isma'il Haniya's First Regional Tour Transforms Him From Hamas PM in Gaza to Regional Palestinian Leader, January 23, 2012. Felesteen.ps, November 10, 2012. This is a reference to Operation Wooden Leg, in October 1985, in which the Israeli air force attacked PLO headquarters in the Tunis suburb of Hammam Al-Shat, killing 60-75 people.