My Wife, the Jailed Palestinian MP

An elected representative like Khalida Jarrar, being sent to prison for six months without undergoing a trial – such things are everyday occurrences in Israel. But there's no public discussion at all.

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Ghassan Jarrar at his factory for children’s toys and furniture.
Ghassan Jarrar at his factory for children’s toys and furniture.Credit: Alex Levac

Ghassan Jarrar didn’t remember whether Khalida took her medications with her. When dozens of Israel Defense Forces soldiers came in the middle of the night to arrest her on April 2, and he was agitated by the thought that his wife, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, would be taken from him – he forgot to check if she had taken her medicines. Now he has been told she is receiving them at the prison.

The Jarrars have been together for 35 years, ever since they met as students at Bir Zeit University, and his love for her is evident to this day. He even named his new factory for children’s furniture after her and their two daughters: “Sky” is an acronym for Suha, Khalida and Yifaa.

The two daughters, incidentally, are currently in Ottawa, Canada, where they are pursuing their doctorates, Yifaa in law and Suha in environmental studies. They are also devoting their time to the international campaign for their mother’s release from an Israeli prison.

Abroad, Khalida Jarrar’s arrest stirred a wave of protests among various activist groups, but in Israel, it was met with indifference – whether in the Knesset, in local women’s organizations, in the media or among the public. Jarrar is not only a legislator, human rights activist, feminist and freedom fighter – she is also the Palestinian representative to the Council of Europe, an international group promoting cooperation in different areas between European countries. However, none of her activities afford her any immunity from the Israeli occupation authorities, who can throw an elected representative into prison, even without a trial, after invading and searching her home in any manner they see fit, ordering her banished from her own city and preventing her from leaving her country for years.

Jarrar is not alone. Sixteen of her colleagues in the PLC are currently in an Israeli prison – about one-quarter of the members of the legislature – but Jarrar is the only woman. She is also the only woman under administrative detention. An elected representative in prison without a trial – such things have become everyday events in Israel and do not prompt any discussion at all, or any questions.

We met Ghassan near the entrance to the Balata refugee camp, near Nablus; his factory is nearby, in Beit Furik. The Jarrars’ home is in Ramallah. We passed through Balata in an easterly direction to get to the Sky factory – a sort of mini-temple of childhood dreams. In the colorful production halls opposite Beit Furik’s modern chicken coops, Jarrar’s plant manufactures children’s furniture and toys covered in brightly colored synthetic Chinese fur. Eighteen employees, some of whom are currently away on the haj to Mecca, build and upholster the charming items.

Ghassan, too, is a charming man, with a mellow and appealing demeanor. He spent 11 years “behind Israeli bars,” as he puts it. The authorities came to arrest him 14 times, and the furthest he has ever traveled in his 55 years is the Ketziot Prison in the Negev, even though both he and his wife hold diplomatic passports by virtue of her status as a member of the legislature. Khalida too has for years already been forbidden to leave the country, even though she is invited to innumerable meetings and conventions abroad.

Ghassan speaks fluent English and Hebrew, and sells most of the output of his factory, which he established two years ago, to the Israeli market. Among the gorgeous swings, beds, benches, stuffed animals and chests of drawers – all of them covered in red, pink, white, blue or black fur – we spoke about Khalida.

She was elected to the PLC in 2006, the last time an election was held, after running on a list that bore the name of Abu Ali Mustafa, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in the territories, whom Israel had assassinated in 2001. Most of her activity in the council was devoted to the struggle to free prisoners and, recently, to preparing the Palestinian Authority’s application to the International Criminal Court in The Hague – and that is apparently the real reason for her banishment from home last year and more recent detention.

Last August 19, in the middle of the night, soldiers came to their home. That night, Ghassan slept at his factory in Beit Furik, which he did from time to time, and the soldiers presented Khalida with an order banishing her to Jericho for six months, signed by the IDF’s regional commander.

Jarrar refused, telling the soldiers: “You are not my source of authority. I am a member of the Palestinian parliament, and I have a government.” She informed them that it was not her intention to obey the order and be expelled from her home, her city and the parliament to which she was elected. The soldiers threatened her with arrest if she did not obey. She said they could detain her then and there.

The following day she set up a protest tent in the PLC building in Ramallah, and remained there for a month. Abroad, a campaign against her expulsion began. Jarrar did not abide by the banishment order and continued with her activity and her struggle in Ramallah. Earlier this month, on April 2, several dozen soldiers again came in the middle of the night, this time to arrest her. They shattered the front door, but Ghassan says they did not damage any other property, nor did they behave violently.

Ghassan says he asked “Capitan Yihye” of the Shin Bet security service, who supervised the arrest: “Are you pleased with your work? Is this what you always wanted to do? To break into people’s homes at night?”

Ghassan also relates that he heard Captain Yihye say to Khalida: “We came to you nicely and you refused: Anyone who doesn’t obey our orders must be punished.”

The soldiers tried to keep Ghassan from embracing his wife before she was taken away, but the captain intervened and allowed them to do so.

No one told Ghassan where they were taking Khalida and why. The following afternoon, her lawyer informed him that she was at the Shin Bet interrogation facility at Ofer Prison. Ghassan says his wife did not cooperate with the interrogators, answer any of the questions they asked, or even give her name. She was remanded into administrative detention for a period of six months, and was transferred to Hasharon Prison.

On April 7, she was brought before a military judge at Ofer for final approval of the administrative detention order, in a session held behind closed doors.

Initially, Israeli officials did not allow Ghassan to see his wife; only after the intervention of two Israeli MKs (Aida Touma-Suliman and Ahmad Tibi of the Joint Arab List) who came to the court was he finally able to do so, for a brief moment. From afar, Khalida asked after their two daughters.

The hearing on approval of the detention order was postponed. Meanwhile, abroad, petitions and letters of protest were sent to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon against what is seen as the arbitrary arrest of PLC member Jarrar. Then on April 15, the military prosecution suddenly decided to file an indictment against her, in parallel to discussion of her detention. The charge sheet enumerates no fewer than 12 security offenses, among them membership in the PFLP and incitement to abduct a soldier as a bargaining chip for the release of prisoners.

Israel has decided to pursue two paths at once to ensure that, whatever happens, Jarrar will remain in prison. In the coming days, deliberations will continue on the detention order and on the offenses of which she has been accused. In the meantime, Ghassan is permitted to send her two books at a time at the prison; only after she returns them is he allowed to send her more. He sends her one political book and one book of prose.



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