Jerusalem police arrest Palestinian activist in his Hebrew U dorm

Khalil Gharra has been taking part in daily vigils in support of hunger striking Palestinian prisoners. After arresting him in the middle of the night, police fail to present any evidence against him, and he is released without bail. 

Shortly after midnight on Sunday, armed plainclothes policemen entered Khalil Gharra’s room in the dorms at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The detectives waved a warrant at Gharra and another friend who happened to be there. They searched his room, confiscated a couple of laptops and threw Gharra in a cell at the infamous Russian Compound in Jerusalem.

This wasn’t the first time Gharra – who is active in the Balad party’s branch at the University – was harassed by the police. Last year he was put on trial following a protest he took part in; he was acquitted of all charges. According to his lawyer, attorney Alaa Mahajna, police made it clear to Gharra that they would meet again.

Gharra spent the night in the Russian Compound and was brought before a judge shortly before lunch on Monday. He was accused of threats and incitement. According to attorney Mahajna, the pretext for the arrest was a Facebook status in which Gharra criticized Palestinians from his village who serve in the police. But police failed to even produce that evidence (the status was written in September) despite confiscating Gharra’s computer; the prosecution had trouble establishing charges against him.

Lacking any reason to continue detaining him, the police agreed to release Gharra if he deposited NIS 5,000 ($1,500) of his own money as bail, on top of third party bail. Gharra refused. The judge released him without bail or any restricting conditions. He was sent home in the early afternoon.

I spoke to attorney Mahajna, who said he thinks the real reason for the arrest is Gharra’s political activity. Balad has been maintaining a small daily vigil at the university in support of the hunger striking Palestinians prisoners and the students have been subject to threats and harassment, including from law enforcement representatives.

I know of many students who have been arrested in protests, it even happened to me in my first year at Tel Aviv University, but I never heard of a case in which the police knocked on the door of a Jewish student in the middle of the night. In general, when investigations regarding speech – incitement and so on – take place, activists are simply asked to report to the police station.

Police actions against Arab political activists within Israel take place on various levels, from restrictions on protests on campuses all the way to the attempts to ban Palestinian Knesset members from running in elections. In recent years, Balad has been the target of most of these attempts. Balad advocates a liberal, “state of all its citizens” model, which many Israelis see as a form of political subversion.

Law enforcement actions against political activists are most common during military operations. During Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, more than 700 Israeli citizens who protested the military campaign were arrested, including many Arab political figures and some 250 minors.

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