‘By the time they let me go my mother was gone’: Daughters of imprisoned Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar speak out

Israel/Palestine
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Ramallah, occupied West Bank — Suha and Yaffa Jarrar have come to accept that their family is never safe. Being the daughters of Khalida Jarrar, a well-known leftist lawmaker in the occupied Palestinian territory, they are always prepared for bad news. Parliamentary immunity is not respected, not by the Israeli government or by its Palestinian counterpart, and their mother has never been one to back down from what she sees as injustice. In addition, their father, Ghassan Jarrar, has spent a total of 11 years in Israeli jail during his lifetime of activism.

Growing up in a politically charged household brought its challenges, but the young women are proud of their parents for their involvement.

“It was hard sometimes, especially when we were young, for sure there were periods when we thought, ‘why us,’ you know, why can’t we have a normal kind of family,  but as adults we understand and we are so proud of our mother,” Suha said.

Khalida has been arrested by Israeli forces several times since she began her involvement in Palestinian politics as a young teenager. However, the most prominent of her detentions was two year ago when she was detained on April 2, 2015 and held for more than one year.

That was the first time Suha had to make the hard phone call informing her sister their mother had been taken. Yaffa was serving tables at a restaurant in Canada in between her studies at the time. Suha told her sister’s boss first and got permission to pull Yaffa out of work to tell her what had happened.

“It was hard to explain to our friends in Canada that my mom was in prison but she wasn’t a criminal. In Canada they’re used to a real justice system,” Yaffa said. “When the people in Canada hear that my mother is in prison I don’t just have to explain what a Palestinian political prisoner is, I have to explain the whole occupation for them to understand, because they just don’t have that awareness of how someone who is innocent, someone who is a lawmaker and activists would be imprisoned without charge or trial.”

Yaffa has lived a double life since she was teenager. She traveled to Canada for high school, where she was accepted into an International Baccalaureate program at United World College, and has lived there ever since.

On one hand, she lives like any other Canadian, but at the same time, words like occupation, martyrs, detentions, soldiers and raids are a part of her daily reality. While she studies to become a lawyer in Canada, she is well aware that back home her sister, mother, father and the rest of her family live under a military occupation. Around 99.74 percent of all Palestinians brought through Israel’s military courts are found guilty.

Yaffa’s mother, Khalida was detained more than two months ago, and yet no charges have been levied against her. No trial has been scheduled, and just getting permission for family and lawyer visits has been a fight.

When Israeli soldiers stormed their house in Ramallah on July 2, Suha and her father were the only ones home. Yaffa was again back in Canada, far away from night raids and checkpoints.

“I just really needed to get ahold of [Yaffa] before she heard the news on social media or something,” Suha told Mondoweiss. “That is always the struggle, breaking the news before the internet does. Last year when they took my mom they took all the computers, laptops, phones — everything — but my dad had my number memorized so he was able to contact me in Canada.”

Suha was shaken up while she scrambled to get ahold of her sister. She had just started a new job in environmental law at a local NGO, her mom had been home for more than year and things were going well.

When the Israeli soldiers busted the door to their family home they kept each family member in a different room of the house.

Suha was confined to her bedroom, where soldiers, both men and women, had forced her on her knees in the middle of her bed, tying her hands behind her back without allowing her to change into proper clothes.

Suha screamed for them to let her see her mother, but they refused.

“They hit me and made me stay there on the bed on my knees for more than thirty minutes,” Suha said. “By the time they let me go my mother was gone.”

When the soldiers went to leave, Suha said they would not take the plastic ties off of her wrists, instead they told her father he could untie her after they left. Suha ran to the balcony of the home, her hands still tied behind her back to see her mother one last time before she was taken away, but her mother was already inside one of the military jeeps.

Yaffa traveled back to the West Bank as soon as she could, flying into Jordan, traveling to the border and crossing on foot in order to reach her family in Ramallah — the only way Palestinians in the West Bank are allowed to enter or exit the country.

Yaffa could only stay short while though. While she was torn about leaving the country with her mother’s fate still hanging in the balance, staying would mean missing a semester of school, and both young women said that is the last thing their mother would want.

“She is not worried about herself at all, even in prison she is just worried about us,” Suha said, smiling as she recalled a letter he mother gave to her lawyer. “She told us not to change our lives, not to cancel any plans. I had a vacation I was supposed to go on and she said not to cancel it, I know she would want me to go, but with everything I just couldn’t.”

Suha and her father have been in constant contact with lawyers since her mother’s detention, they hope for the best but prepare for the worst, she explained.

One thing both are certain of, is that upon their mother’s release she will continue her work in Palestinian politics.

“No matter how hard it has been, we could never fault our mother for her involvement in politics, even if it can be dangerous, it is something she is passionate about and she always encouraged us to follow our passion,” Suha said. “So we will always support her in hers.”

About Sheren Khalel

Sheren Khalel is a freelance multimedia journalist who works out of Israel, Palestine and Jordan. She focuses on human rights, women's issues and the Palestine/Israel conflict. Khalel formerly worked for Ma'an News Agency in Bethlehem, and is currently based in Ramallah and Jerusalem. You can follow her on Twitter at @Sherenk.

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3 Responses

  1. JosephA
    August 30, 2017, 12:48 am

    “Israeli democracy”, certainly an oxymoron.

    @fatbastard
    @Nathan
    @Jack Green

    Sheren, thank you for sharing this sad (but common) Palestinian story.

  2. CigarGod
    August 30, 2017, 10:54 am

    A country run by Rabbi’s who cite God as their authority to steal and brutalize.
    How do you combat that and win?

  3. Citizen
    August 31, 2017, 2:43 pm

    I, as one American, is with you, Jarrah

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