Dozens of Israeli soldiers arrested Khalida Jarrar, a prominent Palestinian left-wing lawmaker and activist, after raiding her home in central Ramallah city in the occupied West Bank overnight on Thursday.
Suha Ghassan, Jarrar’s 29-year-old daughter, was the only other person at home with her mother during the raid. She said she woke up to the sounds of walkie-talkies used by soldiers outside. Jarrar’s husband, Ghassan, was in Jordan at the time — the first time Israel had allowed him to travel abroad in 60 years.
According to Suha, the soldiers began slamming their front door with the butt of their guns. “We told them not to break the door and that we would open it,” she recounted. “There were so many soldiers; I’m not sure how many because I lost count, but there were at least 20-30 soldiers just inside the house.”
A military commander sat down in the family’s living room and asked them “provocative” questions, said Suha. The commander asked Jarrar if she had prepared her bag yet, insinuating that Jarrar should have known Israeli authorities would be after her.
The soldiers then separated Suha from her mother, who was brought into another room to change her clothes. After a prolonged period of demanding to see her mother, Suha was allowed to say goodbye and give her mother a hug before Jarrar was escorted outside and led into an Israeli army jeep.
It’s not an uncommon scene for the former member of the dormant Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Jarrar has been arrested before, in 2015 and 2017. She was last released from Israel’s Damon prison in February, after nearly two years under administrative detention — the controversial Israeli policy of imprisonment without charge or trial, used almost exclusively against Palestinians. This form of detention is based on undisclosed evidence that even a detainee’s lawyer is barred from viewing, and can be renewed indefinitely for three-to-six month intervals.
Jarrar is one of Palestine’s most distinguished and popular politicians. She has served as a fierce women’s rights activist for years, both inside and outside Israel’s prison walls, which included successfully advocating for women prisoners to take secondary school matriculation exams while serving their sentences in Israeli prisons. When she was last incarcerated, she headed courses on international law and human rights for the women prisoners.
Jarrar has also spent years documenting Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian children and injured prisoners as the head of the PLC’s prisoners committee, and during her former role as the director of Addameer, a Palestinian prisoners’ rights organization.
According to Addameer, 5,000 Palestinians are being held in Israeli prisons as of September. Of those, 425 are under administrative detention and seven are PLC members.
“Although according to international law and Israeli courts no one can be detained for their political opinions, in practice Palestinian political leaders are routinely arrested and detained as part of an ongoing Israeli effort to suppress Palestinian political processes – and, as a result, Palestinian political sovereignty and self-determination,” the group stated.
Jarrar was arrested amid a wave of Israeli arrests of Palestinians suspected of affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), of which Jarrar is a member and which Israel considers to be a terrorist organization — along with most Palestinian political parties.
Israel has alleged that a cell of PFLP members were behind an improvised explosive device detonating near Dolev, an Israeli settlement located northeast of Ramallah, which killed a 17-year-old Israeli girl. Israel often rounds up members of specific political parties or social groups during heightened army crackdowns in the West Bank.
Asked about the reason for Jarrar’s arrest, an Israeli military spokesperson said it was “in suspicion of being involved in activities which jeopardize the security in the area.”
Yafa, Jarrar’s other daughter, wrote on her Facebook page on Thursday that Jarrar would be moved from Israel’s Ofer detention center near Ramallah to Hasharon prison outside the occupied territory — a transfer that is considered illegal under international law.
According to Yafa, an Israeli military court will decide whether to extend her detention on Sunday or place her once again under administrative detention.
Suha said that the “basis for this continuous harassment is merely because [Jarrar] speaks loudly against the occupation and its arbitrary practices against the Palestinian people.” She noted that it is “convenient” for Israel to place Jarrar under administrative detention.
“They [Israel] doesn’t want to come off as a country that arrests people for publicly speaking or because they are exercising their right of freedom of expression,” said Suha, adding that administrative detention amounts to “psychological warfare” against the Palestinian population and individuals seen as influential in Palestinian society.
“The goal is to break the spirits of these individuals and their families,” she continued. “It’s renewable indefinitely so there’s no sense of certainty for the prisoner or their family. You don’t know if you will be released in years or months.”
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO executive committee, condemned Jarrar’s arrest, including that of several other prominent activists, in a statement released on Thursday. “We call on the international community to assume its responsibilities to put an end to Israel’s illegal policy of mass arbitrary detention of Palestinian citizens,” she wrote.
Ashrawi also demanded that the “unequivocal international condemnation” of Israel’s use of administrative detention, which “has allowed the occupation authorities to detain 54,000 Palestinian men, women and children since the beginning of the 1967 occupation.”