By Ramzy Baroud
When Israeli troops stormed the house of Palestinian parliamentarian and lawyer Khalida Jarrar on April 2, 2015, she was engrossed in her research. For months, she had been leading a Palestinian effort to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Her research on that very evening was related directly to the kind of behavior that allows a group of soldiers to handcuff a respected Palestinian intellectual, throw her in jail with no trial and have no accountability for their action.
Jarrar was released in June 2016 after spending more than a year in jail, only to be arrested once more, on 2 July last year. She remains in an Israeli prison to this day. On 28 October, her “administrative detention” was renewed for the fourth time.
There are thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, most of them held outside the militarily-occupied Palestinian territories, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Nearly500 of these Palestinians are held with neither charge nor trial and detained for six-month periods that are renewed, sometimes indefinitely, by Israeli military courts with no legal justification whatsoever. Jarrar is one of those “administrative detainees”.
The parliamentarian is not pleading with her jailers for her freedom. Instead, she is keeping herself busy, educating her fellow prisoners about international law, offering classes and issuing statements to the outside world that reflect not only her refined intellect but also her resolve and strength of character.
Jarrar is relentless. Despite her failing health — she suffers from multiple ischemic infarctions and hypercholesterolemia, and was hospitalized due to severe bleeding resulting from epistaxis — her commitment to the cause of her people has not, in any way, weakened or faltered.
The 55-year-old lawyer has championed a political discourse that is largely missing amid the ongoing feud between the Palestinian Authority’s largest faction, Fatah, in the occupied West Bank, and Hamas in besieged Gaza. As a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and an active member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Jarrar has advocated the kind of politics that is not disconnected from the people and, especially, from the women who she strongly and uncompromisingly represents.
According to Jarrar, no Palestinian official should engage in any form of dialogue with Israel, because such engagement helps to legitimize a state that is founded on genocide and ethnic cleansing; a state that is currently carrying out various types of war crimes, the very crimes that Jarrar tried to expose before the ICC. As such, she rejects the so-called “peace process”, a futile exercise that has no intention or mechanism aimed at “implementing international resolutions related to the Palestinian cause and recognizing the fundamental rights of the Palestinians.”
It goes without saying that a woman with such an astute, strong position vehemently rejects the “security coordination” between the PA and Israel. She sees such action as a betrayal of the struggle and sacrifices of the Palestinian people.
While PA officials continue to enjoy the perks of “leadership”, desperately breathing life into a dead political discourse called the “peace process” and the “two-state solution”, Jarrar, a female Palestinian leader with genuine vision, subsists in HaSharon Prison. There, along with dozens of other Palestinian women, she experiences daily humiliation, denial of rights and various other Israeli tactics intended to break her spirit.
Jarrar, though, is as experienced in resisting Israel as she is in her knowledge of law and human rights. In August 2014, as Israel was carrying out one of its most heinous acts of genocide in Gaza — killing and wounding thousands in its so-called “Operation Protective Edge” military offensive — Jarrar received an unwelcome visit by Israeli soldiers.
Fully aware of her work and credibility as a Palestinian lawyer with an international outreach — she is the Palestine representative in the Council of Europe — the Israeli government unleashed their campaign of harassment, which ended in her imprisonment. The soldiers delivered a military edict ordering her to leave her home in Al-Bireh, near Ramallah, and go to Jericho.
The Israelis failed to silence her, so she was arrested in April the following year. Thus began an episode of suffering, as well as resistance, which is yet to end.
When the Israeli army came for Jarrar, its soldiers surrounded her home in great numbers, as if the well-spoken Palestinian activist was Israel’s greatest security threat. The scene was surreal and revealed what Israel’s real fear is: Palestinians, like Khalida Jarrar, who are able to communicate an articulate message that exposes Israel and its crimes to the rest of the world.
Indeed, the whole set-up was reminiscent of the opening sentence of Franz Kafka’s novel, The Trial: “Somebody must have made a false accusation against Joseph K., for he was arrested one morning without having done anything wrong.”
Administrative detention in Israel is the recreation of that Kafkaesque scene over and over again. Joseph K. is Khalida Jarrar and thousands of other Palestinians who are paying a high price merely for calling for the legitimate rights and freedom of their people.
Under international pressure, Israel was forced to put Jarrar on trial, levying against her twelve charges that included visiting a released prisoner and participating in a book fair. Her other arrest and the four renewals of her detention is a testament not just to Israel’s lack of any real evidence against her, but also to its moral bankruptcy.
Why is Israel afraid of Khalida Jarrar? The truth is that Jarrar, like many other Palestinian women, represents the antidote to the fabricated narrative which promotes Israel relentlessly as an oasis of freedom, democracy, and human rights, juxtaposed with a Palestinian society that purportedly represents the opposite of what Israel stands for.
As a lawyer, human rights activist, prominent politician, and advocate for women, Jarrar and her eloquence, courage and deep understanding of her rights and the rights of her people, demolish this Israeli house of lies. She is the quintessential feminist; her feminism, however, is not mere identity politics, a surface ideology, evoking empty rights meant to strike a chord with western audiences. Instead, Khalida Jarrar fights for Palestinian women, their freedom and their right to receive a proper education, to seek work opportunities and to better their lives, while facing tremendous obstacles like Israel’s military occupation, prison, and social pressures.
In Arabic, Khalida means “immortal”. It is a most fitting designation for a true fighter who represents the legacy of generations of strong Palestinian women whose “sumoud” — steadfastness — shall always inspire an entire nation.
– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.