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62 days and counting - Jerusalemite MPs still seeking sanctuary in International Red Cross offices

62 days ago (1st July 2010) three elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council walked into the International Red Cross headquarters in Jerusalem and they have not left since. A fourth colleague, now in detention, was also served with an expulsion order. The three in question have spent the last 9 weeks confined to the Red Cross property, unable to leave, knowing that once they do they will inevitably be seized upon and arrested by the waiting Israeli army. These MPs have rather ingeniously sought sanctuary in the International Red Cross offices, invoking an age old principle of intermediary protection. They have been forced to do this, not because they have broken any laws, not because they are outlaws fleeing justice, but because the Israeli authorities are persecuting them in a manner which violates international and humanitarian law and it is the only way, temporarily, for them to seek shelter from the Israeli army's clutches.


The Israeli authorities have issued "deportation" orders and are threatening to expel these MPs from their home city of Jerusalem where they and their families have lived all their lives. These deportation orders are attempts to slowly Judaize Jerusalem by expelling the Palestinian population. Such orders have already been issued against hundreds of other Palestinians who are also being forced to leave their homes.

These expulsions, as have been pointed out time and time again, contravene the Fourth Geneva Convention (article 49 of which prohibits the forcible transfer of citizens in an occupied territory); The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 9 of which prohibits arbitrary arrest, detention or exile – [also see article 12 and 13]); The Nuremberg Charter, which classifies deportation in this context as a war crime (article 6 a) and a crime against humanity (article 6 b); among many others.

The persecution of these individuals not only has very serious legal implications in terms of Israel, once again, blatantly committing, and getting away with, what are recognized as war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it also has a major impact at a humanitarian level. The impact that this series of events has had on the MPs and their families is a form of emotion and psychological torture. While other MPs worldwide are spending their summer recesses jetting off to exotic locations, these elected Members of Parliament have been forced to sleep on the floor, bathe in a plastic kiddie pool and live in a "protest tent". Mohamed Totah expressed his sadness that even during this Holy Muslim month of Ramadan, as with so many other Palestinians, they are being prohibited from praying at the Al-Aqsa mosque and are confined to the protest tent in baking hot conditions.

Ahmad Atoon, the Jerusalemite MP, said "we are living in the tent in the yard of the Red Cross. The offices are designed for the employees and we cannot live here. There is no toilet or bath. We used to sleep on the ground." He explained that the conditions are not good. "The weather is too hot and wet" he said, "and all of us were infected due to tiredness and lack of water and we are in dire need of medical attention". Medical issues have, it seems, plagued the MPs during their confinement.

The impact on the legislator's children is also quite profound. Abu Arafa's wife said "this agony reflects in my children's behaviour. They have become nervous all the time and I cannot talk with them." She added "when we were with my husband in the protest tent, one of my sons was injured badly. My husband could not even take him to the hospital. He was holding him unable to do anything because of the Israeli police guarding the Red Cross. I cannot describe the sadness and sorrow in his heart when we say goodbye at night. He used to wave his hands while his eyes are full of pain and tears."

The legislator's families are constantly being threatened themselves as a way for the Israeli authorities to exert pressure on the men on the Red Cross grounds. This life of turmoil is sadly a state of affairs that the legislator's families have had to endure for many years now. Following their election in 2006, many MPs, including the 3 currently in question were arrested and sentenced by Israeli military courts to long stretches in jail. Atoon's wife described their suffering saying "when my husband was abducted, my son was three years old and he did not stop asking 'where is my dad?' When his dad called us telling that he is on his way home [after serving his sentence] my son pulled me aside and said 'please mum do not tell anyone because I am afraid that Israeli soldiers will come and take him again.' Every day thereafter he asked me 'mum, is dad in his room or did they arrest him again?" She added, "We cannot live as any family. Our life is full of hardships and agony. Our children never stop asking me why children the world over are having dinner with their dads and we are alone?"

The MPs and their supporters are calling upon the international community not to turn a blind eye to their situation. They are managing to hold out under extremely difficult circumstances and will continue to do so as long as they are able but time is running out. They are calling upon civil society and the governments of the world to force Israel to revoke the illegal call to expel the MPs and to leave them to live their lives in peace, representing the people who voted for them, instead of living as the virtual prisoners that they have now become.

Photo and mini bio of the MPs:

Mohammed Totah was born in 1968 in the city of Jerusalem. He is married and has four children. He has a BA and a Masters degree and used to lecture at Al-Quds University. He spent three years in jail after he won the PLC elections in 2006. On May 29, 2006, the Israeli Interior Minister handed Totah an order confiscating his right of residency and Jerusalemite citizenship. On June 4, 2010, the police of the state of Israel handed him an order to leave the city of Jerusalem before the date of July 3, 2010.

Ahmad Attoun was born in 1968 in the city of Jerusalem. He is married and has four children. He has a BA and a Masters Degree. He is a member of several charitable and social institutions and he is involved in many activities dealing with education and schools in particular, as well as issues pertaining to al-Aqsa Mosque and the city of Jerusalem. He won the PLC elections representing the city of Jerusalem in 2006. Attoun has spent approximately 12 years in Israeli occupation prisons. On May 29, 2006, the Israeli Interior Minister handed PLC member Ahmad Attoun an order which confiscates his right of residency and Jerusalemite citizenship. On June 4, 2010, the police of the state of Israel handed him an order to leave the city of Jerusalem before the date of July 3, 2010.

Abu Arafeh Abu Arafeh was born in the city of Jerusalem (Silwan/Ras al-Amud) in 1961. He is married and has five children. He has a BA in engineering and an MA in political science. He was abducted during the campaign that was launched by the occupation authorities against the PLC members and ministers on June 29, 2006 and was sentenced to 28 months in prison; he was released on September 17, 2008. On May 29, 2006, the Israeli Interior Minister handed Engineer Khaled Abu Arafeh an order which confiscates his right of residency and Jerusalemite citizenship. On June 4, 2010, the police of the state of Israel handed him an order to leave the city of Jerusalem before the date of July 3, 2010.

Abu Tir Mohammed Abu Teir was born in Jerusalem in 1952. He is married and has seven children. He has spent 30 years off and on in prison He won in the PLC elections representing the city of Jerusalem in 2006. On May 29, 2006, the Israeli Interior Minister handed PLC member Mohammed Abu Teir an order which confiscates his right of residency and Jerusalemite citizenship. On May 20, 2010, the police of the state of Israel handed him an order to leave the city of Jerusalem before the date of June 19, 2010. Muhammad Abu Teir was arrested on the morning of July 1st 2010 outside his home, following which the others went the Red Cross offices. The occupation authorities are reported to be constantly exerting pressure on Abu Teir to sign the expulsion order, or else they will keep him in prison indefinitely. Needless to say, MP Abu Teir refuses to sign the expulsion order.

For more on their case and to read the MEMO organised "Peer delegation – fact finding mission report" go to: Fact finding mission report.

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

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