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Israel steps up campaign of arresting Palestinian parliamentarians

January 25, 2014 at 4:35 am

Israel has finally done what it has waited almost a year and a half to do; in a raid contravening international law it arrested two members of the Palestinian Parliament who had been seeking refuge in the International Red Cross compound in East Jerusalem. We all knew it was only a matter of time before Israeli forces made their move. Israel has no regard for democracy, so why would it matter that those it arrested are democratically-elected members of the Palestinian parliament? Israel cares little for international law and even less for international public opinion. Arresting them was to be expected after the occupation authorities had served illegal deportation notices on the two men. Is there any other country in the world which seeks to “deport” people from their own city?

These MPs, like all Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, are “Protected Persons” for the purposes of Article 49 of the Geneva Convention which renders their forcible transfer out of Jerusalem illegal. Israel cares about none of these things and that’s why, every day for the last week or so, we all knew that these MPs would also be arrested and would join the dozens of other jailed Palestinian parliamentarians in Israeli prisons, despite having committed no crime.

This move demonstrates, once again, how out of touch Israel is with developing trends across the region. An unprecedented democratic realignment is taking place across the Arab world and this democratic process is confirming that, in many countries across the Middle East, like it or not, the people have spoken and Islamic groups are the preferred choice to lead the governments. The success of the Nahda Party in Tunisia is one example; the overwhelming victory of the Freedom and Justice Party (the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood) in Egypt is another. Yet Israel clearly recoils at this example of democracy at work and instead of accepting, as the rest of the world is, that it is up to the people of the Middle East to decide who governs them, the Zionist state continues to arrest democratically elected Palestinians.

Khaled Abu Arafeh and Mohammed Totah, dragged from their refuge in the Red Cross compound, will join Aziz Dweik, the Palestinian Speaker, who was arrested last week. The extremist government of Benjamin Netanyahu has been desperate to make sure that Egypt agrees to stick by the peace treaty between the two countries, and yet yesterday, when the new Islamist-led Parliament was beginning its first session in Cairo, Israel went ahead and arrested the Muslim members of the Palestinian parliament in the Occupied Territories.

Has there been any condemnation from international parliamentarians at this outrageous behaviour? While Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office spent the day sending out press releases in relation to Syria and Iran, and even criticism of Palestinians, it remained silent on Israel’s illegal arrests of the Jerusalem MPs. It is hard to imagine such a silence if dozens of British MPs were detained by occupying forces. Yet again we are witnessing an incredible bout of double standards and hypocrisy by the British and other Western governments.

The Jerusalem MPs have committed no crimes. On the contrary, they are the victims of crime. Israel’s attempt to deport them in 2010 was and remains illegal. It is just one aspect of Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing of occupied Jerusalem, and the contrived “Judaisation” of the city.

During their period of refuge in the International Red Cross compound, the MPs received messages and visits of solidarity from hundreds of people from all over the world, including members of the European Parliament and the British parliament. Baroness Jenny Tonge, Lord Raymond Hylton, Labour MP and Shadow Justice Minister Andy Slaughter, Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and many others have made the trip to Jerusalem to show their support to fellow parliamentarians. To be fair, the British government has also made representations to the EU and the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister about their plight, but to no avail. Far from being arrested for being criminals of one kind or another, as Israel likes to claim, somewhat mendaciously, these are respected parliamentarians who have been persecuted by the Israeli authorities in order to prevent them from carrying out the duties for which they have been elected in free and fair polls.

Beyond the injustice of the arrest of these two men, the lack of serious condemnation and action against Israel from the international community more or less gives Tel Aviv the green light to continue with the ethnic cleansing of the remaining 270,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. The status of all of them is now in peril; their Jerusalem identity documents and residence permits can be withdrawn at any time by an increasingly right-wing Israeli government. If the international community doesn’t care about parliamentarians being arrested, is it likely to say much about anonymous individuals and families who are being thrown out of their homeland?

Israel is already a pariah state due to its policies of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, prolonged military occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land; an anti-democracy campaign such as this puts it even further beyond the Pale and away from what defines a decent, humane society. Israelis and their supporters like to claim that Israel is the “only democracy in the Middle East”; that is becoming a bit of a tired joke. In reality, Israel is rapidly becoming a neo-fascist, apartheid state in a sea of Muslim democracy. The times they are a-changin’ and Israel is being left behind; it needs to start a-changin’ too.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.