Opinion

In a Democracy, Palestinian Lawmaker Khalida Jarrar Would Be Free

A legislator in prison through no fault of her own is a political prisoner in every way

Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar in 2015
\ Alex Levac

The continued detention of Palestinian parliament member Khalida Jarrar can no longer be presented as a worrisome exception on Israel’s democratic landscape. Nor can the incredible public apathy and almost total absence of media coverage of her plight be dismissed any longer as a general lack of interest in what Israel does to the Palestinians. The usual repression and denial cannot explain it either.

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Jarrar’s detention doesn’t only define what is happening in Israel’s dark backyard, it is part of its glittering display window. Jarrar defines democracy and the rule of law in Israel. Her imprisonment is an inseparable part of the Israeli regime and it is the face of Israeli democracy, no less than its free elections (for some of its subjects) or the pride parades that wind through its streets.

Jarrar is the Israeli regime no less than the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. Jarrar is Israeli democracy without makeup and adornments. The lack of interest in her fate is also characteristic of the regime. A legislator in prison through no fault of her own is a political prisoner in every way, and political prisoners defined by the regime. There can be no political prisoners in a democracy, nor detention without trial in a state of law. Thus Jarrar’s imprisonment is not only a black stain on the Israeli regime; it’s an inseparable part of it.

A Palestinian legislator has been imprisoned for nothing for months and years, and no one in Israel cares about her fate; only a very few protest. None of her Israeli counterparts in the Knesset say anything, not even those from the hypocritical Zionist left; no jurist groups or even the enlightened High Court of Justice are working to get her freed. 

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There’s no point in reporting on the trivialities that the Shin Bet security service attributes to her, or to explain that she is innocent until proven guilty. There is no point in writing again and again about parliamentary immunity, lest this be considered delusional – how can a Palestinian have immunity? – nor is there any point in wasting words to describe her courage, though she is perhaps the bravest woman living today under Israeli control.

All these things fall on deaf ears. There are no charges and no guilt, just a freedom fighter in jail. The Shin Bet is the investigator, the prosecutor and the judge, three positions in one in the land of unlimited possibilities, in which a state can define itself as a democracy, even the only one in the Middle East, and most Israelis are convinced that this is the case, while the world accepts it.

Jarrar could end up spending the rest of her life in prison; there is no legal impediment to this since all the pathetic arguments used to justify her continued detention could be deemed valid indefinitely. If she’s dangerous today, she’s dangerous forever. Political prisoners, detention without trial and unlimited imprisonment define tyranny.

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Of course, Jarrar is not an exceptional case; she isn’t even the only Palestinian MP in an Israeli prison. So the pretentious talk about Israeli democracy must be halted, given her imprisonment. Israel with Jarrar in prison is at most a half-democracy.

Therefore, the resistance should no longer be directed solely against the occupation. The resistance is to the regime in place in Israel. Her imprisonment is the regime and she opposes the regime under whose boots she lives. Many of the Palestinian resistance organizations, which are always defined as “terror organizations,” solely because of their means, rather than their goals, are opponents of the regime under which they were forced to live. Their goals are similar to those of others who resisted tyranny, from the Soviet Union to South Africa to Argentina. Just like the handful of Israelis who want to support Jarrar. They are not expressing only human solidarity or opposition to the occupation; they are opponents of the regime.

All those who support her continued detention, anyone who is silent while she remains in jail, and all those who make her detention possible are saying: Forget democracy. That’s not what we are. Get used to it.