Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar details her 20-month ordeal in an Israeli prison without charge

She speaks to The National about being caged, chained and tried in secret for no declared reason

TOPSHOT - Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) member Khalida Jarrar, 56, walks following her release from an Israeli jail on February 28, 2019, Nablus in the occupied West Bank. Israel released from custody the Palestinian politician who had been held without trial for 20 months over links to an organisation it considers a terrorist group, the Israeli prison service said. She was arrested on July 2, 2017 for being a senior member in the PFLP, a movement considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the European Union. / AFP / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH
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A prominent Palestinian human rights activist and politician has laid bare the cruel methods used by Israel against Palestinians who have been jailed without charge.

Khalida Jarrar granted an interview to The National just weeks after her release last month from a 20-month stint in an Israeli cell.

Every few months, Israeli authorities would chain Ms Jarrar’s arms and legs, put her in a cage at the back of a security truck known as a "bosta" and drive her and fellow Palestinian inmates to a military court for a secret trial.

“They would put us in a truck, which looked very nice from the outside but inside we’d be in handcuffs sitting in cages for hours," she said by phone.

"They wouldn’t allow us to stop and use the bathroom. Our only stop was the court. They’d take us out, we’d receive our sentences and then they would put us back in our cages and drive us back in the same condition."

The hearings in Haifa meant another six-month extension to her administrative detention, a tactic used by Israel to incarcerate people without trial or charge, based on allegations that they might commit a future offence.

After the trials, Ms Jarrar and her fellow inmates would return to Damon Prison, a maximum-security complex in the coastal Israeli city where the parliamentarian of the suspended Palestinian legislature continued doing what she has worked towards for her entire political life – defending the rights of her people.

She was well aware of the repercussions to teaching fellow inmates their rights as Palestinians citizens living under an illegal occupation.

Ms Jarrar was sent to solitary confinement, barred from showering and left without the means to cook her own food.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine member's prison sentence was extended three times by an Israeli military court, on charges she could not defend because the Israeli authorities said them they were confidential.

Ms Jarrar, 56, suspects the rolling sentences were added because of her work during her time in detention.

Officially, she was told it is administrative detention given through military order that can detain any Palestinian citizen for up to 20 months on no charges – a British colonial judiciary hangover adopted by the Israeli authorities.

“It’s a military order released without any charges or trial, without anything against you," Ms Jarrar said. "They don’t tell you anything, just that you are, for security reasons, under arrest and they can extend it based on that..

"They claim that we are so dangerous to their security but how we are dangerous, they don’t explain."

The Palestinian feminist and human rights defender continued the struggle within jail.

After rebelling against the constant camera surveillance, Ms Jarrar organised a 63-day protest in which inmates refused to leave their rooms until the authorities removed the cameras she said were infringing on the privacy of inmates.

The Israeli authorities did not give in and the protest ended when she and the other protesting inmates were transferred from HaSharon Prison to Damon Prison in Haifa.

“This prison barely functions as an environment for any sort of human life. The conditions were really difficult,” Ms Jarrar said. “But we continued our protest against the imprisonment.”

In Damon, her family were allowed to visit twice a month for 45-minutes to speak to her by phone through bulletproof glass.

Ms Jarrar was forced to shower in public, her books were confiscated and, at times, she was left in solitary confinement for days on end.

She said her imprisonment was one of many examples of the Israeli occupation’s disregard for human rights conventions and the impunity of their arbitrary detention of Palestinians.

Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem said 491 Palestinians, including two women and two minors, were being held in administrative detention at the end of January 2019.

There has been little international pressure on the Israeli government over such detentions but the lack of attention in Ms Jarrar’s case particularly angered the Palestinian leadership, because she is a politician.

"Khalida Jarrar's case reflects the arbitrariness and impunity that the Israeli occupation enjoys," Palestine Liberation Organisation secretary general Saeb Erekat told The National.

"A national leader, sister, parliamentarian, mother, wife and comrade is arrested without charges for two years without any international consequences for the occupation.

“The problem doesn’t stop there. More than 900,000 political prisoners since 1967 means that this issue remains in the core of our cause.

"We call on the International Criminal Court to take action as they have enough information on this file."

But even in her release, the authorities ignored the rights of the Palestinians.

They told her she would be released in February 28. They called the Red Crescent, her family and the authorities to tell them she would be dropped off outside the prison at 1pm local time at a checkpoint called Hajiz Al Jalma.

But on the morning of February 28, at 6am, the prison guards woke Ms Jarrar from her sleep and told her to get ready because she would be leaving in 10 minutes.

They drove her to a different checkpoint, 25 minutes away from Hajiz Al Jalma and six hours early.

They dropped Ms Jarrar off in the clothes she wore almost two years earlier when she went to prison.

Without a phone or any way to contact her daughters, she asked a Palestinian family if she could use her phone. Her family picked her up and took her back to Ramallah.

Three days after her release, she was called by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and intelligence chief Majed Faraj.

But less than two weeks out of prison, Ms Jarrar says her focus remains on her work as an activist.

She said it would not be stopped by her ordeal in an Israeli prison and the threat of being detained again.

“At the end of the day, I am a Palestinian and I will continue to point out the occupation’s violations," Ms Jarrar said. "I represent my people, people who suffer.

“I will not stop, of course, because I will defend my people.”