What Does Jailing a Palestinian Politician Say About Israeli Democracy?

Khalida Jarrar was sentenced to 15 months in prison this week for membership in an illegal organization and incitement, but was her trial in a military court just?

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Khalida Jarrar in the courtroom of the Ofer detention facility, in May.
Khalida Jarrar in the courtroom of the Ofer detention facility, in May.Credit: AP

Khalida Jarrar is a political prisoner. The Ofer Military Court, which on Monday sentenced the Palestinian parliamentarian to 15 months in prison for membership in an illegal organization and incitement, is a political court that punished her for her political activity, and for that alone. Thus Israel, which pretends to be a democracy, has political prisoners, political arrests and political prison sentences, at least in the occupied territories.

Jarrar’s trial once again proved the intolerable contradiction between the rule of law and the principles of justice, on one hand, and the military justice system on the other. The latter has no relationship to the former.

Jarrar was arrested at her home in Al-Bireh in April. The defense establishment claimed at the time that the reason for the arrest was her violation of a military order that allowed her to live only in the Jericho area, far from her home. No other crime was mentioned. Later, she was indicted on 12 different counts, some of them ridiculous and even outrageous, like attending a book fair and paying condolence visits. In the end, she was convicted on two counts in a plea bargain. 

One military court judge ordered her freed long ago; another ordered her kept in prison until the end of her trial; and the military prosecutor threatened her – and essentially the court as well – by saying that if she were released, she’d be thrown in jail without trial, in other words placed in administrative detention. This is not how the legal system of a properly run state conducts itself.

Even the fact that Jarrar is a legislator, a member of parliament, an elected representative of her people – a post that ought to grant her immunity from political charges – didn’t give her a moment’s protection. Israel treated her brutally, just as it treats every Palestinian it deems suspect. 

First it tried to keep her away from her hometown with a draconian military order. Then it tried to put her in administration detention, which is no less arbitrary. Finally, and only after public and international pressure for her release had intensified, members of the military justice system were forced to fabricate an indictment against her – most of which, as noted, collapsed. Essentially, this was a Band-Aid, based at least in part on dubious evidence, including vague hearsay evidence and testimony obtained under pressure.

The fact that Jarrar was thrown into prison because of her political activity on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is first and foremost an indictment of the State of Israel, which puts politicians on trial because of their legitimate opposition to the occupation and even sentences them to jail. Jarrar and her attorneys decided to accept the plea bargain in order to shorten her trial, and thereby the length of her detention until the end of proceedings. But the black flag that flies over the shameful imprisonment of a Palestinian member of parliament will continue to fly over the State of Israel, tarnishing her jailers and, above all, those who are responsible for them.

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