Political Prisoners: Exceptions to the Rule

Khalida Jarrar is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Committee (PLC), serves on the Board of Directors for Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, and on 2 April, joined 15 other Palestinian legislators held under administrative detention orders in Israel.[1] A notable political activist, Jarrar also works as a senior political leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). However, the group is designated a terrorist group by both Israel and the United States. According to her lawyer, Jarrar was arrested for alleged activities within the hostile organisation. The Israeli Army has said that the arrest was a result of substantial concerns for the ‘security and safety of the region’ and Jarrar’s active support of terrorist activities.[2] Alternative sources attribute her arrest to an act of retaliation. After a travel ban was issued last year ordering Jarrar to vacate her home in Ramallah for six months, civil outcry initiated a campaign defending Jarrar and the order was shortened to one month. Jarrar did not comply with the order and remained in Ramallah.[3] However, any charges are merely speculation, as Israel does not have to issue charges for those held in administrative detention for up to six months. The decision to hold Palestinians under such circumstances is based upon classified evidence that is not made available to defence teams.[4]

Image courtesy of Magne Hagesaeter, © 2006, some rights reserved

Image courtesy of Magne Hagesaeter, © 2006, some rights reserved

With Palestine as the newest member of International Criminal Court (ICC), the country has a new outlet to pursue allegations of war crimes. Activist groups have been quick to call Jarrar’s detention a violation of international law. Representative groups such as the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) have been vocal about what they perceive as illegal. The PLO has cited the arrest a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and in stark contrast to the international norms that dictate a certain level of immunity granted to elected officials.[5] However, Palestine’s ability to press charges in the ICC remains precarious as both Israel and the United States have denounced the move; the two powerful bodies on the UN Security Council have significant political power in determining which cases the ICC accepts.[6]

Palestine has been eligible to join the ICC since it was granted observer state status by the UN in 2012. However, President Abbas has been reluctant to join in the years since. The United States is the second largest donor to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and, under US law, is required to withdraw funding if charges are pursed against Israel.[7] The move also opens Palestine up to war crimes charges themselves. Wary of compromising their state sovereignty, Israel and the United States are not members of the ICC, however Israel is still susceptible to charges brought against them from within Palestinian territory.[8]

The Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly outlines the right to a trial, however the ICC’s limited jurisdiction allows for Israel’s continued administrative detention policies for political prisoners. Comparisons could be drawn to the United States and policies towards those deemed threatening to ‘national security’ as exceptions to the rule. With over 100 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002 without trial, 78 of them cleared for release as far back as 2009, the United States has transformed indefinite detention into a national defence tactic[9]. Spaces of exception become the new norm in states fighting ‘wars against terror’. Membership of the ICC could infringe upon the American and Israeli ‘right’ to hold such prisoners. This is exactly the state of affairs President Abbas has said he hopes to contest.

Despite the Israeli Army’s stated goals of safety and security in the region, the act seems to have served only to rally support for Jarrar, as she has risen to an almost iconic status. In addition to the now 16 legislators held, Jarrar joins an additional 440 people imprisoned in Israel under administrative detention[10].

With the ICC’s dependency on the support of the UN Security Council, it seems unlikely that that route will be pursued, with Jarrar’s arrest instead serving as yet another source of ongoing conflict.

[1] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/04/israel-palestinian-mp-khalida-jarrar-150406092924379.html

[2] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/04/palestinian-legislator-khalida-jarrar-arrested-west-bank-150402153711365.html

[3] ibid.

[4] http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/04/israel-palestinian-mp-khalida-jarrar-150406092924379.html

[5] https://www.internationaltforum.dk/Palestinian-organizations-and

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-30744701

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-30744701

[8] ibid.

[9] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/06/israel-us-common-strategies-cont-20146275539316595.html

[10] ibid.