Palestinian MP's Crimes: Visiting Prisoners and Talking to the Media

Nothing demonstrates political persecution better than the 12 counts on which Khalida Jarrar was convicted and jailed.

Alex Levac

Her feet are shackled. She’s wearing faded jeans and sneakers, and a T-shirt under a sweatshirt bearing the name of an American university. Her hair is coal-colored. Occasionally she smiles or blows a kiss to someone in the small crowd in the courtroom. Khalida Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian parliament, has been imprisoned for the past two months by Israel and has been brought into the military court at Ofer Prison, near Ramallah.

Here’s what a military court looks like when a member of the Palestinian parliament is brought in: A reinforced presence of Israel Prison Service officers, including a combat unit whose members don black shirts, is on hand, along with a few foreign diplomats in jackets and ties. The family is represented by her husband and sister; no others are permitted in. There are also a few activists, Israelis and internationals.

This punitive facility of the occupation is actually a jumble of trailers that serve as courtrooms, as though to create an illusion of temporariness, located next to a prison for Palestinians. The military judge wears a knitted skullcap, so does the prosecutor; maybe they’re settlers, but that’s certainly a meaningless detail.

The soldier who’s acting as the Arabic translator of the proceedings starts out loudly but soon stops. There’s no need; there isn’t even a semblance of justice in this court. The prosecutor, a lieutenant colonel, salutes the judge, a major, as he enters. Case no. 3058/15, “Military Prosecution vs. Khalida Jarrar / IPS present,” the transcript states.

Jarrar sits down on the defendants’ bench when she enters the air-conditioned courtroom. Her legs remain shackled throughout the proceedings.

“They want to silence our voice,” she tells us, before the session begins, “but we will continue the struggle against the oppression until we achieve our freedom.” Her husband, Ghassan, owner of a plant that makes children’s furniture and toys covered in brightly colored synthetic fur, gives her a soft smile.

The judge, Major Haim Balilty, is about to hand down his decision regarding the prosecution’s request to keep Jarrar in custody until the conclusion of the proceedings against her. The 52-year-old lawmaker from El Bireh is a veteran political activist, feminist and fighter for the freeing of the Palestinian prisoners.

At first the Israeli security authorities wanted to throw her into “administrative detention,” but in the wake of an international protest against the arrest without trial of a lawmaker, they decided to indict her on 12 counts. Nothing demonstrates better than these 12 counts, like a dozen witnesses, that if there is such a thing as incarceration on purely political grounds – this is it.

The charge sheet has everything but the kitchen sink. The more the counts, the less substance they have. “Membership in an illegal association”; “holding office therein”; “performing a service for the illegal association”; and one count referring to incitement. But even the major prosecution witness related to the incitement charge stated that he “is not certain whether the defendant personally spoke about abducting soldiers, but noted that this matter was mentioned many times during the rally” (according to the judge’s remarks).

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestinian left-wing party (it has a military branch) that was a member of the PLO and took part in the elections to the Legislative Council (the Palestinian parliament), is an “illegal association.” Balilty has confused it with the Popular Front – General Command, under the leadership of Ahmed Jibril.

Drawing on the comments of one of the witnesses, the judge stated that the two organizations have the same commander. A sign of utter ignorance. Jibril’s group broke with the Popular Front in 1968, and today there is no connection between the two groups, other than their similar names. But who’s counting and what difference does it make? Everyone knows that all the Palestinian organizations are the same.

The indictment against parliamentarian Jarrar, the gist of which is read out by the judge, provides some tragicomic relief. If it weren’t so sad it would be hilarious. Is this what a person of such standing is brought to trial for? For this she has already spent two months in prison?

“The defendant delivered many speeches in her capacity [as a parliament member] in a large number of meetings and rallies of the Popular Front, and gave interviews to media outlets and television channels… It is also alleged that on one occasion the defendant took part in a rally calling for the release of the Popular Front’s secretary general, Ahmed Sa’adat, from an Israeli prison, and on another occasion took part in a gathering in memory of Abi [sic] Ali Mustafa, a founder of the Popular Front…”

The charge sheet goes on to list even more serious accusations: Jarrar visited prisoners who had been released from jail and even awarded one of them a shield of appreciation on which was engraved – wait for it – “In esteem of your [plural] steadfastness.” The judge read out another “incriminating” charge: “Seif Aladin Bader incriminated the defendant [by stating] that she came to visit him on behalf of the Popular Front upon his release from prison.”

The defendant also delivered a speech “against the Israeli occupation” and even visited a tent of protesters calling for the release of Palestinian prisoners. On top of this, adds the charge sheet, she gave an interview in the tent. She stood on a stage where there hung posters calling for kidnapping of Israelis for bargaining purposes and for the release of prisoners.

“All the offenses,” Balilty summed up, “were perpetrated in the period from June 2009 to December 2013, apart from one offense – being present at a Popular Front meeting – which was perpetrated, it is alleged, in September 2014, when the defendant attended an exhibition of books sponsored by the Popular Front.”

That was apparently the prosecution’s ace in the hole, the smoking gun (to switch metaphors). The judge noted that during her visit to that exhibition, the defendant asked “how the activists were doing and about how the books at the exhibition were selling.” The prosecution even had a witness who related that he, with a mask on his face, delivered a speech calling for the abduction of soldiers to be used to force the release of prisoners – and Jarrar “was present on the stage of the rally while he made his speech.” Another witness said he hung three signs on the stage on which the defendant sat.

Not a muscle twitches on the judge’s face during his mechanical recitation of the indictment. His words are largely swallowed up by the noise of the audience and the hum of the air conditioners. What he says could only be construed as a particularly perverse parody of military justice. No one laughs (or cries) at the grotesque charges of visiting a book fair, delivering a speech, giving a media interview, visiting a protest tent or congratulating a released prisoner. It’s all enshrined in the laws of the occupation, and Jarrar has been imprisoned for two months for it.

“It has been found more than once that organizational activity within the framework of a hostile organization also poses great danger,” His Honor notes with utter seriousness. After his army service, he’ll no doubt become a civil court judge.

The judge also overrules an objection to the effect that the defendant enjoys diplomatic immunity and cited legal arguments to uphold his ruling – just as he did when he maintained that Israel has the right to arrest Palestinians in Area A, which is ostensibly under Palestinian control. The laws of the Israeli occupation have an answer for every contingency. “See: Article 10 (f) of the Order Regarding Security Provisions (consolidated version) (Judea and Samaria) (no. 1651) 2009.”

But then comes a twist in the plot: “In the final analysis… The fading of the claim of dangerousness in the matter of the defendant, in respect of the offenses attributed to her, allows it to be replaced by suitable securities in the criminal proceedings against her.”

Even the judge-major grasps the scale of the farce and decides to release Jarrar on a bond of 20,000 shekels (about $5,100) in cash, joined by a third-party bond in the same amount.

The applause and cries of joy that break out in the audience are short-lived. The prosecutor, Lt. Col. Morris Hirsch, gets to his feet: “I request a delay of 72 hours in order to consider whether to file an appeal and to allow the military commander to consider issuing an administrative detention order.”

The judge: “I hereby order a delay in the implementation of my decision… To remove all doubt, and in accordance with the law, Sabbath days and holidays will not be taken into account. It is now 2:10 P.M. Submitted and handed down this day, May 21, 2015, in public and with the parties present.”