Gideon Levy

Shin Bet Claimed She Was Behind Israeli Teen's Murder. Her Indictment Says Otherwise

The re-arrest of Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar sparked a media campaign accusing her of alleged involvement in the murder of Israeli teen Rena Shnerb. No one took an interest in the actual indictment

Khalida Jarrar, in a 2015 photo, at the military court at the Ofer base, where her new trial is set for next week.
Alex Levac

Indictment: “Military prosecutor vs. Khalida Jarrar. Nature of the offense: holding a position in an illegal association. Offense under article 85(b) of the Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945.” This charge sheet, which has one clause and takes up just one page, is mandatory reading. It exposes the naked – and disturbing – truth about Israel’s occupation authorities and security apparatuses, but also about the country’s media, their bonded lackey.

This is not only a story about tyranny in the territories, not only about the fact that Jarrar, like thousands of other Palestinians, is a political prisoner in every respect – as the military prosecution itself admits this time. Nor is it only about the fact that Israel allows itself to arrest Palestinian elected officials without any inhibition. Equally disturbing is the blind, knee-jerk mobilization of the Israeli media in the service of the security establishment’s propaganda. The Shin Bet dictates the narrative, the media repeat and declaim it, no one checks, no one asks, no one presses for more information – and that, too, is called journalism. That’s the left-wing media for you, after all.

Khalida Jarrar was arrested on the evening of October 31 at home in El Bireh, in the central West Bank. Last week, the Shin Bet briefed military correspondents about the widespread arrests it had made of members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in connection with investigation of the murder of Rena Shnerb in August, at a spring in the West Bank that settlers have forcibly taken over. The day after the briefing nearly all the newspapers ran screaming headlines about Jarrar’s supposed involvement in the killing. Yedioth Ahronoth: “Shin Bet arrests Khalida Jarrar, responsible for murdering Rena Shnerb”; Israel Hayom: “Among those responsible for murder of Rena Shnerb: ‘Human rights activist’ of 56.” The other media outlets – with the notable exception of Haaretz – followed suit in their coverage: Jarrar murdered Shnerb – or at least gave the order for her to be killed.

No one took an interest in the actual indictment. It contains not a word about Shnerb’s murder, about any sort of murder, not even about any acts of violence to which Jarrar can be linked. The charge sheet, signed by the military prosecutor, Maj. Tal Ziskovich, states that Jarrar is accused of being a “director or assistant to the administration of an illegal association, or held a position or standing of some kind in an illegal association or under its auspices.” This feeble wording was the best the military prosecution could do. But the media were convinced: Jarrar committed murder.

The indictment also reveals information about a meeting of three Palestinian figures, mentioned by name, that took place in 2014, “or at a proximate date,” in which the three discussed the situation of the PFLP. The conversation’s participants, it was stated, decided “to renew and implement activity of the Front in the region and to serve as leaders of the organization.”

Moreover, the document states: “In this meeting the three agreed on a division of the tasks among themselves. According to the division, the accused is responsible for the PFLP’s national and political activity, and for the official connection with the Palestinian Authority and the organizations.”

It follows that Jarrar is in charge of the PFLP’s political activity and of that alone – even according to the army’s indictment. The indictment reveals that the accused continued to meet with the two others, and reported to them about her political activity. At a meeting in June 2019, “the accused provided an update about the national and political situation. By so doing, the accused held a position in an illegal association until the day of her arrest.”

No murder, no terrorism, no Rena Shnerb, no violence – only political activity in a movement that Israel decided to place outside the law of the occupation.

The PFLP is a political movement with an ideology and a platform, which also has a separate and compartmentalized military wing. But the Israeli lexicon contains no entry under “Palestinian political movement” or “Palestinian political party” – only “terror organization.”

Khalida and Ghassan Jarrar in March 2019, after she was released from her last prison term.
Alex Levac

Thus, Jarrar, a secular woman, a feminist, a human rights activist and an opponent of the occupation who was elected on behalf of the PFLP to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006 – was transformed into a terrorist, and not for the first time. From July 2017 until February 2019 she was held in “administrative detention,” arrest without trial, under a military order that stated that she is a political activist “who endangers the security of the region.” That followed about a year after she finished a 14-month prison term after admitting to political activity on behalf of the PFLP. Among the absurd counts in that earlier indictment, in 2015: Jarrar visited the home of mourners and had given a talk in a library. Initially, after her arrest, an administrative detention order was issued against her; after 13 days the powers-that-be had a change of heart: The military prosecution issued an indictment against her on 12 counts, which a month later had been reduced to two: “membership in an illegal association” and “incitement.”

From February to October this year Jarrar was left alone, eight months of freedom and euphoria – we met her in her home the day after her release – but then came her rearrest just under two months ago. Her husband, Ghassan, 60, who owns a factory that makes children’s furniture and colorful stuffed animals, was in Jordan at the time. At home in El Bireh one evening this week, he joked that the most distant destination he had reached in his life was the Ketziot Prison in the Negev, even though he holds a diplomatic passport by virtue of his wife’s status.

Khalida’s photo, with the caption “Freedom,” is again on display in the living room on the second floor of the handsome stone house. The troops treated his wife gently this time, Ghassan relates; they didn’t even bind her hands or blindfold her. The only other person in the house at the time was their daughter Suha, a climate scientist who works for the human rights organization Al Haq. The couple’s other daughter, Yafa, who has a law degree, lives in Canada. Ghassan watched her wedding in Ottawa some years ago, in which she married a Canadian man, via the internet together with friends. Khalida was in jail at the time, as usual, and he was not allowed to leave the country, as usual.

The arrest this time around took him by surprise, he tells us. Since her release, Khalida tended to her health and looked after her aging mother, who lives in Nablus (her father died while she was in prison), and had received a teaching position at Bir Zeit University. She had intended to give a course on human rights and began preparing for it, but it’s unlikely now that the course will start as scheduled, during the second semester, in February.

Ghassan recalls that Khalida told him upon her release earlier this year, “They don’t want to see me outside. I am going to resign from all my activities and focus on teaching at the university, at least temporarily.” But then he adds, with a smile, “But you know how hard it is for a politician to retire.”

In late October, Ghassan received a permit to leave the territories for the first time in his life. He went to Jordan, to see his two brothers, four sisters, three aunts and 22 cousins who live there. Some of the younger relatives he had never seen before. He hadn’t seen his brother Hussam for 50 years; the last time he saw his brother Zuheir was in 1998. The rare family reunion was emotional – a video clip captures the embraces and outpouring of tears. Suddenly, he says, he got a call from an employee at his factory in Beit Furik, near Nablus. “I’m so sorry about what happened to Khalida,” she said. That was the first he heard about the arrest. He dropped everything and was in Ramallah within hours. The family gathering, planned to last two weeks, ended abruptly after two days.

Khalida is incarcerated in Damon Prison, near Haifa. Her trial is scheduled to resume next Monday in the military court at the Ofer base, near Ramallah. She was interrogated for 20 days in a Shin Bet facility, and the results of the interrogation appear in the indictment. According to her husband, she wasn’t even asked about the fatal incident that took place at the West Bank spring in August. During her remand hearing, Ghassan managed to ask her a quick question: “Did you get your medications?” From past experience with his wife’s arrests, he’s always concerned about her getting her medicine; she suffers from blood-clotting problems.

Why was she arrested again? Ghassan is convinced that Israel has decided to uproot the PFLP and imprison all its activists. For her part, her attorney, Sahar Francis, is certain the arrest is a political ploy aimed at vilifying human rights organizations that are still operating in the territories.

Initially, a gag order, valid until December 31, was placed on the arrest of Jarrar and the other PFLP officials. The Shin Bet briefing that linked Jarrar to the killing of Shnerb took place on December 18; the gag order was lifted in its honor, ahead of schedule. Attorney Francis believes that there is a connection between the briefing about Jarrar’s supposed complicity in the murder and the fact that the day before, the American organization Human Rights Watch published a sharply worded report about the situation in the territories.

Entitled “Born Without Civil Rights: Israel’s Use of Draconian Military Orders to Repress Palestinians in the West Bank,” the HRW report devotes a chapter to Khalida Jarrar and the history of her imprisonments. It concludes with a list of recommendations, among them that Israel should provide full protection of the human rights of Palestinians living in the West Bank. As for the Israeli army, it should “cease arresting and detaining people for their nonviolent exercise of their rights to free assembly, association and expression.” The report also recommends that Israeli military prosecutors stop charging persons under the Defense (Emergency) Regulations of 1945.

The author of the report, Omar Shakir, director of the Israel-Palestine branch of HRW, was recently expelled from Israel.