Israel’s arrest of Palestinian lawmaker ‘a farce’

Khalida Jarrar’s arrest exposes the plight of thousands of Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.

In the streets of Gaza City
'I have experienced firsthand the occupation forces' savagery,' wrote Jarrar from jail [EPA]

Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Yafa Jarrar, 28, says she was surprised when she learned that her mother had been arrested by a large contingent of Israeli soldiers from her home in al-Bireh, a Ramallah-area town in the occupied West Bank.

“It was late at night here in Canada when I heard the news and I couldn’t believe it at first, but nothing this occupation does is shocking,” she told Al Jazeera. 

Her 52-year-old mother, Khalida Jarrar, is an influential female lawmaker and leader in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a leftist organisation considered illegal by Israel. “No one from my family – not my sister, my father or me – has been allowed to speak to her since the arrest,” she said. “It has been hard on all of us, especially my father.”

Shortly after her arrest, Khalida penned an open letter from jail calling for solidarity with her and other Palestinian political prisoners. “I was kidnapped from my home, from my family, from my husband’s side, and from my people. I became deprived of delivering the services to those who elected me,” she wrote from behind bars. “I have experienced firsthand the occupation forces’ savage and brutal invasion of my house, where they shackled me and kidnapped me to an unknown place.”

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Last month an Israeli military judge ruled that Khalida should be released. Yet, a week later, a military court rejected the order to release her on bail following an appeal filed by Israel’s military prosecutor. The West Bank Military Court of Appeals ordered that Khalida remain in jail until her trial has concluded. Her next hearing is scheduled for June 22.

Israel's courts are kangaroo courts because really the judges are part of the military and their decisions are not independently made through legal proceedings but are informed by Israeli intelligence.

by Yafa Jarrar, daughter of Khalida Jarrar

Khalida’s legal problems started back in August 2014, when she first received an Israeli military order informing her that she had to leave the city and relocate for a period of six months to Jericho, a Palestinian city about 30 minutes away from her home. She refused to sign the order and instead set up a solidarity tent outside the Palestinian Legislative Council compound in Ramallah.

Eight months later, on April 2, Israeli soldiers surrounded her home, entered and searched the residence, arrested the lawmaker and confiscated two computers.

Her arrest brought the number of Palestinian lawmakers in Israeli detention to 16, and she is currently one of 22 female prisoners in Israeli lockup, according to the Ramallah-based Addameer Prisoner Support Network. Before eventually being dealt charges, Khalida was held in administrative detention, a practice in which Israel detains Palestinians on “secret evidence” without charge.

An estimated 422 Palestinians are currently classified as administrative detainees.

At the time, Amnesty International released a call for urgent action on Khalida’s behalf, maintaining that she was being held under administrative detention because Israeli authorities feared that charging her would make her eligible for being released on bail.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, an Israeli military spokesperson said Khalida was arrested for being “a senior member of an active terrorist organisation”, adding that the lawmaker “poses a clear and present danger” to Israel’s security.

She has now been hit with a dozen charges, including membership in an illegal organisation (the PFLP), incitement to kidnap a soldier and visiting former Palestinian prisoners released by Israel.

The Israeli military spokesperson argues that Khalida ought to remain in prison until the legal proceedings conclude due to her alleged history of noncompliance with Israeli military orders, alluding to the order mandating that she relocate to Jericho for six months. “In light of the significant sentence that awaits her if she is convicted, there is concern that she will choose not to [willingly] stand trial or serve her sentence,” the spokesperson commented.

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Her family isn’t holding out hope for a fair trial. According to a 2011 military document leaked to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Palestinians are convicted at a rate of more than 99 percent in Israel’s West Bank military courts.

“Israel’s courts are kangaroo courts because really the judges are part of the military and their decisions are not independently made through legal proceedings but are informed by Israeli intelligence,” Yafa remarked. “Israel wants to drag the legal process out as long as possible so the uproar will die down. It’s intentional.”

Human rights groups, as well as Khalida’s supporters, reject the claim that she is a security threat to Israel and instead say she has been targeted because of her political activism and views. Jarrar has a long history of progressive activism and advocating for Palestinian political prisoners.

“My mother’s work has always been humanitarian work and she has devoted her whole life to being a human rights advocate,” said Yafa. “That’s dangerous for Israel.”

People and Power – Boycott Israel

According to a statement released by Addameer last month, the reversal of Khalida’s bail confirms that her arrest is “vengeful, arbitrary and political, with an aim to punish her for her political opinions and activism for Palestinian human rights, especially in supporting Palestinian prisoners and detainees”.

Arab members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, have also called for her to be freed. “This is a political detention of an elected official who is opposed to the occupation,” Aida Touma-Suliman, a parliamentarian from the Joint List, a coalition of Palestinian-majority parties, said last month.

Palestine solidarity groups and Israeli activists have protested against Khalida’s detention, and Yafa says she has also been contacted by parliamentarians from across the world.  

Though international campaigning for Khalida’s release “has been very strong”, Yafa notes that the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority’s response has been disappointing.

“I’m not surprised at all,” she said, “because the only representatives we have in the Palestinian Authority right now are the architects and guardians of security coordination with Israel.

“My mother’s imprisonment is a farce, and any judgement [Israel’s] courts make is a farce,” she continued. “Our campaigning doesn’t stop with her – it is about all of the more than 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners.”

Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_

Source: Al Jazeera