RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- “She’s my life, she’s my soul,” says Ghassan Jarrar. “Time has stopped since she was arrested, and also life.”The 55-year-old pauses, his eyes glistening with tears, and he smiles. “You know, we have a pet here, a cat. You cannot believe how much he misses her.”Posters showing his wife, Khalida Jarrar, have been put up throughout the Ramallah apartment where she was arrested more than two months ago.An elected member of Palestine’s parliament -- the Palestinian Legislative Council -- Khalida also heads the PLC’s prisoners’ committee and is the Palestinian representative on the Council of Europe.Asked why the Israelis arrested her, Ghassan smiles. “Because she is Khalida.”“They don’t want anyone to tell the truth or speak freely,” he says. “I am still convinced that she is a prisoner of freedom of speech. They don’t want people like that to be outside, with their people.”There have been suggestions that her position on the Palestinian committee overseeing developments at the International Criminal Court may also have contributed to her arrest. Initially sentenced to six months in administrative detention, international pressure later forced the Israeli authorities to bring 12 charges against her, focused on her membership of the PLC and the leftist organization the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.Although a judge ordered her release on bail on May 21 -- saying there was no evidence she posed a security threat -- a week later, another judge accepted the prosecutor’s appeal and ordered that she remain behind bars until trial on June 22. If convicted, the political leader, rights activist and feminist could spend up to two years in prison. There have been worries about her medical condition, which requires constant treatment and supervision.Her case has brought outcry across both Palestine and Israel, with Palestinian and Israeli rights groups calling for her release.The Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer described her arrest as “vengeful, arbitrary and political, with an aim to punish her for her political opinions and activism for Palestinian human rights.” Human Rights Watch said “her case is rife with due process violations.”But it is on this quiet street in Ramallah, a short distance from Yasser Arafat's former headquarters, the Muqata, that her loss has been most felt.Ghassan and Khalida’s two daughters, Yafa and Suha, are both studying abroad in Canada, and for the last two months Ghassan has lived alone.A warm, welcoming man who runs a small toy factory in Nablus, Ghassan smiles as he speaks of his wife.
'I respect her'He met Khalida nearly 35 years ago in Birzeit university, where she studied human rights and democracy.He later engraved the date on a piece of marble while serving time in an Israeli prison. Holding the stone into the light, he reads out the Arabic calligraphy, “Every year, you are my love,” along with the date, October 25, 1980.The two were engaged on the eve of their graduation and married a year later when Khalida completed her Master’s Degree in July 1985.Ghassan says he never worried how her political activism might affect their lives together. In part, this was due to his belief that “every family, every house” is equally affected by the Israeli occupation.But more than that, he never saw it as his place to question what Khalida did. He stopped his own political activism for “my own reasons, because of my responsibility towards my family, my daughters.”“But I don’t interfere with her life. I respect her.”Their lives, however, have not always been easy. Ghassan has been arrested 14 times, spending 11 years of his life in Israeli prisons -- each time under administrative detention, with neither trial nor charge.Khalida, meanwhile, has been banned from travelling abroad since 1998, except for a single occasion in 2010 when she was allowed to go to Jordan for medical treatment.In August last year, Israeli troops descended on their home in the middle of the night with a military order dictating that she leave Ramallah for Jericho for a period of six months.They chose Jericho, says Ghassan, “because it’s isolated, and they want to isolate her… She has no house there, she has no office. She doesn’t know any people there.”Khalida refused. “She told the officer when they came here, ‘You don’t have the right to give me this order, so I’m not going to obey,’” says Ghassan. She began a protest campaign and following a wave of support, Israel relented.The issue ought to have been over, says Ghassan, but “they kept it in their pocket, and they punished her later.”
Ghassan Jarrar holds a portrait of Khalida on April 2, 2015 at their home in the West Bank city of Ramallah (AFP Photo/Abbas Momani)
'Stronger than them'Ghassan says it was after 1 a.m. on April 2 when Israeli soldiers came to take her away. Khalida had been working, and she woke him to tell him there were soldiers on the street.The soldiers smashed through the downstairs door, raced up the stairs, and crowded into the apartment. An intelligence officer stepped forward and introduced himself as Captain Yahya.He asked that the soldiers take Ghassan into one of the bedrooms, while he seated himself in the living room with Khalida.Ghassan only heard part of their conversation, as the officer told his wife: “‘The last time we came here, I told you to leave the country, and you refused, and you will see what will happen with people who refuse our order.’”It was after 2.30 a.m. when Ghassan was told they were taking Khalida with them. He asked why, but the intelligence officer would not say.As they began to lead her from the apartment, Ghassan tried to reach out to her. At first the soldiers refused, but Captain Yahya turned around and told them to allow it.“So I went, and hugged her, and kissed her, and told her, ‘Khalida, remember, you are stronger than all of them.’” She was in the right, he told her, and they were not.Tears fill Ghassan’s eyes as he recalls the scene. “She told me, ‘Don’t worry, keep strong.’ She asked me
Ghassan met Khalida 35 years ago in Birzeit university. (MaanImages/Killian Redden)
,” he says, and lowering his face, he silently sobs.
'A political detention'
Activists protest Khalida Jarrar's arrest. (MaanImages/File)
Since that night, Ghassan has only seen his wife in court, where her legs were shackled to the floor. When he tried to touch her, the guards threatened to take him away, saying they would not allow him back if he tried again.
Ghassan says that the court sessions so far have been “like a joke.” At one point, the prosecutor told the judge that if he intended to release Khalida, he would have to give him the chance to bring her back under administrative detention.
Much of the prosecutor’s case has been based on “secret” evidence that Khalida’s lawyers have not been allowed to see -- the same evidence that the first judge, Chaim Baliti, said was not enough to merit her arrest.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has characterized the trials as “a Kafkaesque perversion of military law,” while the journalist Gideon Levy has written that the indictment of 12 charges is “one of the most ridiculous legal documents ever written here, even by the military legal system.”
Aside from membership of an illegal organization, the charges include accusations that Khalida gave interviews, speeches and lectures, participated in marches, attended a politicized book fair, called for the release of Palestinian prisoners and opposed the Israeli occupation.
She is also charged with calling on Palestinians to kidnap Israeli soldiers for prisoner exchanges, although Levy wrote that the charge is “doubtful even according to the indictment.”
Khalida is one of 12 members of the PLC currently behind bars, many of whom are being held under administrative detention. The majority of Palestinian political organizations are considered illegal by Israel, including those that make up the PLO.
Ghassan says it is impossible to predict the outcome of her upcoming trial.
“In Khalida’s case, you cannot expect anything, because it’s not usual,” he says. But sitting in his apartment, he looks worried.
“It’s a political detention. It has no relation to judicial issues or security… They want her inside the prison. How? It doesn’t matter.”