Israel jails Palestinian politicians ahead of PA elections

Tamara Nassar

The Electronic Intifada /  March 2, 2021

With Palestinian legislative and presidential elections set to take place in coming months, Israel is intensifying its crackdown on Palestinian political and civil society figures in the occupied West Bank.

On Monday, Israel sentenced Palestinian lawmaker Khalida Jarrar to two years in prison, a $1,200 fine and a suspended sentence of one year.

Her crime? Being a member of the leftist political party the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Israel considers virtually all Palestinian parties and resistance organizations to be “terrorist” groups, meaning that any politically active person can be targeted for arrest.

“The timing is not coincidental,” Palestinian lawyer Yafa Jarrar said of her mother’s sentence, referencing Palestinian elections.

Khalida Jarrar was arrested during a large military night raid on her home in October 2019, and has been held without charge or trial ever since.

Her detention came only eight months after her release from a previous 20-month period in administrative detention – without charge or trial.

She was arrested as part of what Palestinian prisoners rights group Addameer said was an Israeli campaign targeting political activists and students in the second half of 2019.

Addameer added that Israel falsely accused Jarrar of involvement in the killing of Israeli teen Rina Shnerb.

Shnerb was killed by what the Israeli military said was an improvised explosive device near the Dolev settlement in the West Bank in August 2019.

But the Israeli military prosecutor on Monday changed the indictment against Jarrar to only include her political activities, and she was not charged with any involvement in Shnerb’s killing.

Jarrar has previously spent years in Israeli prisons and has been banned from traveling because of her membership in the PFLP.

First vote in 15 years

Palestinian legislative and presidential elections slated for May and July would be the first since the legislative elections of 2006, when Hamas won by a landslide.

It beat out Fatah, the ruling faction of the Palestinian Authority led by Mahmoud Abbas.

However, Abbas’ party, backed by Israel, the United States, the European Union and some Arab states, did not allow Hamas to govern the Palestinian Authority.

Instead, Fatah-aligned militias in Gaza, working with the United States, tried to remove Hamas from power by force.

But in June 2007, Hamas moved against them pre-emptively, expelling US-backed Fatah forces from Gaza.

The attempted putsch against Hamas after it won the elections resulted in the current division, where Abbas’ Western-backed PA kept control in the West Bank, while the internationally isolated Hamas has ruled the interior of the besieged Gaza Strip.

There is no guarantee that elections will take place, as numerous votes have been scheduled in recent years and then postponed indefinitely.

Elections are largely seen as a way to reinforce the legitimacy of the main Palestinian political parties 15 years after the last vote and in light of the new US administration.

As The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah recently wrote, it is unclear why Hamas would trust the same Abbas and Fatah party that led the coup against Hamas in 2007 to respect results now.

“Any reconciliation or ‘national unity’ can only be based on Abbas’ Fatah abandoning collaboration with Israel, or Hamas abandoning resistance,” Abunimah wrote.

Arresting members of Hamas

Israel has regularly imprisoned Palestinian elected officials just because it doesn’t like their views, and is now accelerating such arrests ahead of the scheduled elections.

This is done as “part of an ongoing Israeli effort to suppress Palestinians’ exercise of political sovereignty and self-determination,” Addameer stated.

Israel has been conducting sweeping arrests of Hamas figures in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks.

In February, Israeli forces arrested Hamas figures Adnan Asfour and Yasser Mansour, and ordered Asfour held in administrative detention for six months.

Mansour is also a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Hamas said the arrest of its politicians in the West Bank “confirms the occupation’s targeting of the elections process.”

Naif al-Rajoub, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said Israeli occupation forces raided his home in February and warned him against participating in the elections.

Al-Rajoub told Shehab News Agency that Israeli forces warned him not to run in elections or participate in campaigns, and only permitted him to go to the polls.

Other Hamas figures arrested by Israel in recent weeks include Khalid al-HajAbd al-Baset al-HajOmar al-Hanbali and Fazee al-Sawafta.

An Israeli military court last week extended the administrative detention of Khitam Saafin, the head of the Union of Palestinian Women Committees, by four months.

Saafin was arrested with other Palestinian political activists in November, and has been held without charge or trial ever since.

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada