On Monday, Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar faced a military hearing at Ofer, an Israeli army base in the illegally-occupied West Bank. Jarrar’s only “crime” is speaking out against against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and for the rights of Palestinian political prisoners.
At the hearing Monday, the two witnesses brought by the prosecution (an army officer) before the judge (also an army officer) said that false confessions had been extracted from them by Israel under the duress of torture in Israeli detention. The prosecutor then farcically had the witnesses designated by this kangaroo court as “hostile” and was able to cross examine them.
This was a brave move by the witnesses, who were essentially forced to testify and will likely now face ominous consequences when they head back to Israel’s notorious prisons system, which habitually tortures its victims.
The Israeli columnist Gideon Levy, who has been covering the case for Haaretz, says that the case demonstrates again that the whole of Israel’s military court system (used almost exclusively for Palestinians, and not for Jewish citizens) is a “ridiculous costume party … a system where the judge salutes the prosecutor, who outranks him militarily”.
Jarrar was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council on behalf of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. While the group does have an armed resistance wing, it is clear that Jarrar is a politician, and even the Israeli army’s propaganda is not accusing her of participation in armed struggle.
Instead, it is clear that the Israeli occupation force is going after her because she has for years been one of the most effective advocates for the human rights of Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli jails. She is a former director of Addameer, a Palestinian human rights group that advocates for prisoners, and is still a vice-chair of the group. She is one of 5,700 Palestinian political prisoners currently in Israeli jails, 14 of whom are MPs.
Last year, the occupation forces attempted to internally deport her from her home in al-Bireh, near Ramallah, to Jericho, in another part of the West Bank. Jarrar resisted this order by protesting and drawing international attention to her cause until the Israelis were embarrassed into a climb-down.
Then, in April, the Israelis vindictively punished her for this act of non-violent resistance by kidnapping her from her home in the middle of the night and slapping a 6-month “administrative detention” order on her.
“Administrative detention” is the Israeli euphemism for internment without charge or trial. The practice dates back to the British Mandate period and still relies on decrees made by the British occupation forces.
The brazen injustice of Jarrar’s detention led to more international attention, with her military court hearings being monitored by representatives of European governments and Amnesty International. A list of 58 members of the European Parliament called for her release.
Under this pressure, the Israelis were embarrassed into issuing formal charges. But Israel’s military court process is nothing less than a kangaroo court, and the sheet of 12 charges against her is “one of the most ridiculous legal documents ever written” by Israel, according to Gideon Levy.
The legal proceedings “include such ludicrous charges as attending a book fair and visiting a released prisoner in his home”. None of the 12 charges are for acts of armed struggle; each charge has everything to do with advocating for legitimate Palestinian rights.
One of the counts, for “incitement,” relates to an allegation that Jarrar called for Palestinian defence forces to capture Israeli occupation soldiers in order to exchange them for Palestinian prisoners.
Even were it true, this allegation would amount to no more than advocating for the right of Palestinian resistance and self-defence. But, according to Levy’s account of the hearings, “even the major prosecution witness related to the incitement charge stated that he ‘is not certain whether the defendant personally spoke about abducting soldiers, but noted that this matter was mentioned many times during the rally'” she was allegedly present at.
Ridiculous indeed. Israel needs to be pressured into releasing Jarrar immediately.
The crime of “administrative detention” should not be allowed to go on. Even in this case, Israel seems determined to conclude the original 6-month administrative detention decree in practice while maintaining the sham of a forthcoming “trial”.
In practice, it has employed delaying tactic after delaying tactic to stop any trial from happening, even a military show trial. Her next hearing is slated to take place on 20 September, which takes us almost up to the end of the original 6-month internment period (although these orders can be renewed indefinitely).
These incessant delays are only possible thanks to the fixed system of “justice” in which the Israeli military is judging itself: Israeli officers are judge, prosecution and even “defence”.
All this only goes to show, in the words of Jarrar herself that “a perpetrator can never be the judge of his victim.”
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.