Khalida Jarrar, a leading Palestinian feminist and lawmaker who defied an Israeli order last year to deport her from her West Bank hometown of al-Bireh to the desert city of Jericho, was sentenced to 15 months in prison by an Israeli military court on Monday.
Jarrar’s legal fight began on April 20, 2014 at when at least 50 Israeli forces surrounded her home and handed her a writ of expulsion. The notice declared she was a security threat to the state of Israel.
“They [Israeli soldiers] came to my house, the soldiers, many soldiers with one police man and they informed me that there is a military order against me that I should go to Jericho and that I have 24 hours to implement that decision. And they asked me to sign that decision, and I refused to sign,” Jarrar told Mondoweiss days after the nighttime incursion.
“I announced that it was not their right to take me and deport me to Jericho. Here is my life, here is my home,” Jarrar said.
When speaking to Mondoweiss Jarrar was camping out in an office in the Palestinian Legislative Council compound in Ramallah where she has worked as a parliament member for the past decade, “I have everything to sleep, to have my shower, to do everything inside.” she said.
At the time the Israeli action raised flags over the issue of jurisdiction in the West Bank. Both cities in the military order, al-Bireh and Jericho, fall inside the boundaries of Area A of the West Bank, a region under full Palestinian security control and includes all of the major West Bank cities. According to the Oslo Accords, the Israeli military has no authority inside Area A, including enforcing the movements of a Palestinian like Jarrar from one section of it to another.
“I’m not here for protection, I’m here to work. It’s a political message also,” Jarrar added explaining her rationale for relocating to her office complex: Jarrar decided if the Israeli military was prepared to violate the Oslo Accords as she saw it and send her to Jericho, she would ensure the act of taking her into custody would be carried out on the premises of a Palestinian government building, in view of Palestinian police. She hoped to symbolically raise attention to the question of the legality of the deportation order.
After sleeping inside of the legislative council for weeks, fed by food prepared and dropped off by relatives—“I eat three meals a day,” laughed Jarrar—the Israeli military dropped its expulsion case. Jarrar viewed it as a victory. She moved back into her family home. Yet the reprieve was short. On April 2, 2015 Israeli forces again returned to Jarrar’s home and detained her without charged.
The following month an Israeli military prosecutor charged Jarrar with 12 security offenses. In court on Monday, Jarrar reached a plea deal with the army prosecutor. She was sentenced to 15 months in prison on two counts, incitement against Israel and membership in an illegal group—the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a Marxist and socially liberal political party that was founded in 1967. Her lawyers said she agreed to the sentencing deal after suffering unspecified medical ailments related to the 16-hour commute between HaSharon Prison in Israel and Ofer Military Court in the West Bank.
Jarrar is renowned amongst secular leftist Palestinians as a champion of womens’ rights, and the rights of Palestinians. According to al-Monitor, 13% of Palestinian legislators are women, although there is a national quota for 20% female representatives. Jarrar is seen a a trailblazer for women in politics.
Prior to entering the legislative council Jarrar headed the Ramallah-based human rights legal group Addameer. Yet she is most known as the unofficial head of the PFLP—the group she was convicted of belonging to. However, Jarrar disputed her membership to Mondoweiss, explaining the PFLP is a banned movement by the Israeli government, as with all Palestinian political parties.
“All of our work is risky, because if we want to give a speech against the occupation, it’s a risk, but this is what we have to do as Palestinians. I don’t expect that any people who are occupied will accept their occupier,” Jarrar said, noting all Palestinians legislators run the risk of arrest under the letter of Israeli military law.
Yet the pre-Oslo law is selectively enforced, as the ban includes the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling party Fatah. Were Israel to arrest all members of illegal groups, the entire Palestinian government would be detained.
“My list is not the Popular Front, in the Parliament,” Jarrar stated, “We have to try to work in other ways, so we held elections with another name, not the Popular Front.”
When Jarrar ran as a legislator in 2006, she was balloted with the Ali Abu Mustafa Martyr Brigades, an organization the PFLP called its “armed wing” on its website and takes its name after a former general-secretary who was killed by Israeli forces in his home in 2001.
During the 1960s and 70s the PFLP engaged in a series of attacks against Israelis, notably airplane hijackings. The group gave up militant acts in consort with other major Palestinian parties in 2005 in peace talks with Israel after carrying out eight suicide attacks during the second Intifada. One year before Jarrar joined the list. While the movement is largely recognized as ending its armed struggle, in recent years a handful of Palestinian attackers have claimed membership, casting doubt the armed-wing disbanded.
Still Jarrar and her supporters—which span form Portugal’s parliament to the UN special Rapporteur on the Rights of Palestinians, to Amnesty International—say she has no connection to the PFLP’s militant history and have called her a political prisoner.
Secretary-General of the PLO Saeb Erekat today decried Jarrar’s incarceration, stating she was tried in one of Israel’s “kangaroo courts,” a reference to the Israeli military trials’ 99.7% conviction rate that has come under scrutiny in recent years after the Israeli head of the court announced secret evidence and speedy hearings impeding on Palestinian defendant’s due process.
“This is a politically motivated act against a Palestinian official, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one of the historic Palestinian political movements and an integral part of the PLO,” Erekat said, “MP Jarrar was one of the most active members of the national committee tasked with overseeing Palestine’s ICC [International Criminal Court] efforts. Israel has sent a clear message opposing our legitimate and peaceful efforts toward achieving freedom and justice.”
“The information used against Mrs. Jarrar involved information as old as 2009, and that the fact that she was charged years later in 2015 indicates the arrest is a politically motivated one,” said Jarrar’s legal representatives from Addameer (her former employer) in a statement.
At the time Jarrar was handed the deportation order back in 2014, 36 Palestinian parliamentarians were detained in Israeli jails, including the last head of the PFLP, Ahmad Sadaat. Four legislators were also banned from Jerusalem and sent to Ramallah.