Gideon Levy

A Palestinian Lawmaker Is in Detention Without Trial, and Israel Doesn't Say Why

Dozens of Israeli troops marched into Khalida Jarrar's Ramallah home in the dark of night, beating up her daughter and seizing her husband's work hard drives before making the arrest; her family fears she will stay in jail indefinitely

Ghassan Jarrar, the husband of Khalida Jarrar, holds a portrait of her on April 2, 2015 at their home in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI

On April 2, 2015, the phone rang in the home of Suha Jarrar, in Ottawa, Canada. It was nighttime back home in Ramallah, and Suha was frightened. Either her mother had been arrested or her cat had died, she thought. “They took Mother,” her father told her.

That was the beginning of a 15-month prison term for Khalida Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, the parliament of the Palestinian Authority. She was charged on a dozen ridiculous and preposterous counts, which included having paid a condolence call and visiting a book fair.

A little over two years passed when Suha Jarrar woke up in a fright in her parents’ home in Ramallah to find that armed, female Israel Defense Forces soldiers were standing next to her bed, with rifles aimed at her. It was 4:15 A.M. on Sunday, July 2, less than three weeks ago. A few dozen armed soldiers, some of them masked, swooped down on the family’s house. Khalida Jarrar was again abducted from her home. A nighttime arrest in Area A, which is supposedly under Palestinian security control, parliamentary immunity trampled into the dust, arrest without trial.

A few days later, the Israeli military commander of the region would sentence Khalida to six months of “administrative detention” – incarceration without trial and without charges. An attempt had been made to place her in administrative detention on the previous occasion, too, but perhaps because of the international outcry, the military authorities were forced to try her on mostly untenable charges; she served out her entire sentence of 15 months.

Jarrar, a legislator who was elected democratically to represent her people, is again languishing in an Israeli prison, despite the international protests generated by her previous detention, which was no less political than this one. And, as in 2015, the present imprisonment has not elicited any protests or manifestations of solidarity in Israel from Jewish MKs, male or female. People here are occupied with other things.

A photo of Khalida Jarrar on a chair at her Ramallah home, next to her cat, Ajawi.
Alex Levac

So Jarrar is again in Sharon Prison, in the center of the country. And Ajawi, the cat, is still around. Ajawi has reddish fur that was shaved to make him look like a lion, though the result is somewhat ludicrous.

The grove of fruit trees at the entrance to the handsome house at the corner of Salam Za’arour and Chile Streets is well tended, even though Jarrar hasn’t been here for three weeks. Through the window, the Muqata, headquarters of the PA, can be seen, a few hundred meters away. A photograph of Jarrar with the word “Freedom” below it in English, and a photo of Suha presenting the Palestinian flag to Pope Francis are perched on a shelf in the living room, on the second floor of the stone house.

Shin Bet security service agent “Captain Husam,” who was in command of the nighttime detention operation, paused next to Suha’s picture and asked one of the soldiers to photograph it. Suha was received in 2014 by the pope as part of an environmental-protection project she was involved in. Today, at 26, she’s completing a master’s degree in environmental studies in Ottawa, works in Al-Haq, a Ramallah-based human rights organization, and has returned to live in her parents’ home. Her older sister, Yafa, 30, married a Canadian and lives in Canada, where she’s in the final stages of obtaining a Ph.D. in law. Their father, Ghassan, continues to manage his factory, located in Beit Furik near Nablus – which manufactures children’s furniture and toys covered in brightly colored synthetic, Chinese-made fur – and to support his wife in her struggle for freedom. The family is once again torn.

Khalida Jarrar was released from jail on June 3, 2016, after serving her full sentence; that date is now the password for Ghassan’s cellular phone. In her 13 months of freedom, Jarrar worked in her parliamentary office, which is not far from her home, and dealt with the problems of local residents. She received dozens of people every day, her husband says, and weighed each of her activities on “golden scales,” as he put it, in order not to get on the wrong side of the occupation authorities again.

Jarrar is known as a human rights activist and a feminist. What did she do during her 13 months of liberty?

Ghassan: “Does it make any difference? I will quote what the prosecutor in the military court said, after Khalida was brought there two-and-a-half weeks ago for remand, 96 hours after she was taken into custody. The prosecutor requested a remand for eight days. The judge gave him six days. When the six days ended, the prosecutor told the court that nothing had been found against her and asked for another 72 hours before issuing an administrative detention order against her.” And that is what happened.

Suha, left, and Yafa Jarrar, Khalida Jarrar's daughters, in court in 2015.
Alex Levac

Even the suspended sentence from the previous trial was not invoked, apparently in the absence of any incriminating evidence.

Ghassan has never been outside the West Bank, because Israel has not allowed him to leave. This “Prisoner of Zion” has been arrested and imprisoned 14 times since the age of 15. He’s now 58; Khalida is 54. She left the West Bank once, in 1998, to attend a human rights conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris. She has not been allowed to travel abroad since except for once, in 2010, when she fell ill and needed medical care not available in the West Bank, and Israel allowed her to travel to Amman, Jordan. That, however, was only after the intervention of several Israeli and international figures.

She identifies with the approach of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but is not an official member of the organization. A few months ago, she was appointed one of 15 members of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the supreme body of that organization.

At 4:15 A.M. on July 2, Khalida awoke to the sounds of pounding on the iron door of her apartment building. She woke Ghassan, who jumped out of bed in his boxer shorts and shouted to the soldiers via an intercom not to blow up the door, as they had done during the previous arrest. He then hurried down two floors to the entrance. Opening the door, he saw in the darkness a row of soldiers aiming their rifles at him. Some 30 to 35 of them entered the house, he says. “We want your wife,” they told him.

He hurried back upstairs to Khalida, but the soldiers steered him into the living room in order to isolate him. He remembers he Hebrew word for “isolate” from his solitary confinement in prison. The soldiers ordered him to sit on the simulated-leather sofa on which we are sitting now, but he refused. He was fearful for the fate of Suha, who had fallen asleep only an hour earlier. He asked “Captain Husam” to instruct the troops to conduct themselves without violence. The Shin Bet agent agreed.

Ghassan Jarrar, the husband of Khalida Jarrar, holds a portrait of her on April 2, 2015 at their home in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI

Suha would later tell her father how she’d woken up in a panic to find the soldiers in her room. He heard her shouting from the living room. The soldiers tried to silence her by force: She related that a few male soldiers entered her bedroom, seized her by the throat and hit her on the head and body. Ghassan says he tried to run to her, but was blocked by the soldiers. Suha tried to photograph the intruders with her cellphone, which they tried to grab from her. Finally, they handcuffed her behind her back.

“How can you sleep at night?” she asked one of the female soldiers in English, and the latter replied, “When we arrest a terrorist like your mother, we sleep very well.” Suha asked for water, but the soldiers refused to free her hands her and tried to force water down her throat. Suha spat the water in their faces and was beaten again.

In the meantime, the soldiers searched the house and confiscated the hard discs of the six laptop computers they found. The force started to organize to leave before first light. They spent exactly half an hour in the house before taking Khalida into custody. Ghassan managed to hug her for a split second and to try to cheer her up, before she was taken away. Suha’s plastic handcuffs were removed, and she threw them at the soldiers. Ghassan is keeping them as a souvenir. His daughter’s face was red from crying and her hair was untidy, he recalls. Suha then went to the kitchen balcony, which overlooks the place where the soldiers took her mother, and cried out hoarsely, “Mother, Mother!” She went on crying for another half-hour, even after the soldiers’ departure, her father says. He tried to calm her. “Don’t let them break our spirit,” he told her. “That’s exactly what they want. Don’t give them that. Start thinking about how to help Mother.”

They called Canada again, this time to Yafa, and told her, “They took Mother.”

Suha was taken to hospital for an examination; she was bruised all over. Ghassan discovered that all the discs with information about his business were gone.

I asked him whether he’d expected her to be arrested again, and got a surprising answer: “After the minutes of the meeting of the PLO’s executive committee on June 4 were leaked to the social networks, I was very apprehensive that something bad would happen to Khalida. But I didn’t expect the Israelis to arrest her.”

The PLO’s executive committee had held a lengthy session on the evening of June 4, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas presiding. According to the reports, the president was in a foul mood. Khalida Jarrar was the third speaker in the meeting, following Abbas’ lengthy speech. She was critical of the fact that the executive committee hadn’t met for months, of Abbas’ insufficient support for the hunger strike of the Palestinian prisoners – which was then at its height – and of his behavior with regard to the siege of the Gaza Strip and its electric-power crisis. Khalida returned home distraught. She said nothing to Ghassan, but after the minutes of the meeting were leaked he started to fear for her fate.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Office offered this response to a request for comment from Haaretz: “An administrative detention order for a period of six months was issued recently to Khalida Jarrar, based on new classified evidence pointing to the fact that Jarrar is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and constitutes a danger to the area of Judea and Samaria. The order was issued as a last resort, in view of the fact that there was no other means to prevent the danger she poses. A suspended sentence still applies to Jarrar, after she was convicted in December, 2015 for security crimes, and for which she served a jail term. The suspended sentence was not reactivated because that can only be done within the framework of a legal procedure, and she is in administrative detention [i.e., has been arrested without charges and without trial]. During the arrest of Jarrar, no violence was used against those present. Jarrar’s daughter acted wildly and with physical violence against the troops, and thus it was necessary to handcuff her during the arrest itself.”

During his wife’s previous incarceration, Ghassan was permitted to visit her only twice in 15 months. Now he’s working through the International Red Cross to get visiting permits for himself, his daughter and her sisters. He’s apprehensive that the term of imprisonment will not end after six months but will be extended. Israel never announces in advance whether it intends to prolong administrative detention; theoretically, it could go on indefinitely.

Khalida herself told her husband in the courtroom that she’s afraid she won’t be released after half a year. He managed to ask her if she’s getting her medicines and if her blood is being tested regularly. She told him yes, and that he shouldn’t worry. That’s what his wife, a strong and impressive woman, always tells him.