Israel has intensified its persecution of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Israel forces arrested PLC Speaker Mr. Aziz Dweik at Jaba checkpoint, near Ramallah on 19 January. His arrest came five days after the Geneva based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) discussed the situation of PLC members in Israeli jails. PLC members visited the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians in Geneva to clarify the situation of the Palestinian lawmakers. I reported on the visit for The Electronic Intifada.
PLC Speaker Dweik sentenced to administrative detention
Israel did not oppose the participation of any Palestinian blocs in the 2006 PLC elections. However, one year after the elections, Israel declared the Hamas-associated Change and Reform bloc illegal. Since then PLC members who ran on the Change and Reform list have been accused of “membership,” “activity” and “holding a position” in an “unauthorized association,” according to the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Organization.
An Israeli spokesperson said to news agency AFP that Dweik was arrested “because he is suspected of being involved in the activities of a terrorist group.” The military court in Ofer Prison sentenced Dweik to six months of administrative detention. Yesterday. Dweik’s attorney Fadi Qawasmi said the sentence was handed down without any charges being filed against his client, according to Ynet.
In 2006, Dweik was also arrested in the wave of arrests of ministers and PLC members following the capturing of an Israeli soldier in Gaza. Dweik was then sentenced by an Israeli military court to three years in prison, two years of suspended imprisonment, and a NIS 6,000 (USD 1,500) bail.
Israeli forces kidnap two PLC members from Red Cross Office in East Jerusalem
On Monday, 23 January, Israeli forces stormed the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) head office in Sheikh Jarrah, occupied East Jerusalem. They kidnapped two PLC members from the Change and Reform Bloc: Mohammed Toutah, and the former Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, Khaled Abu Arafa. Since June 2010, Toutah, Abu Arafa together with PLC member Ahmed Attoun held a sit-in at the ICRC Jerusalem head office, rejecting Israel’s decision to withdraw the residency rights of Jerusalemite PLC Members. Undercover Israeli forces arrested Attoun from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in late September last year.
Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) issued a press statement on 24 January:
According to information collected by PCHR, at approximately 13:15 on Monday, 23 January 2012, an IOF [Israeli army] undercover unit comprised of 30 members stormed the yard of ICRC’s head office in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
They attacked the sit-in tent in which PLC Member Mohammed Omran Saleh Toutah, 43, and former Minister Khaled Abu ‘Arafa, 51, were staying and arrested both men.
They further arrested Toutah’s brother, Mo’tassim, 48, and Amr Abu ‘Arafa, 26, who were in the tent as well. Eyewitnesses indicated that the undercover unit directly headed to the tent and introduced themselves as police.
They took Toutah and Abu ‘Arafa out of the head office premises, put each of them in a vehicle and transported them to al-Masqoubiya detention center in Jerusalem.
In the meantime, other members of the undercover unit stormed the ICRC’s head office and confiscated computer sets and cell phones belonging to Toutah and Abu ‘Arafa, which indicates that they went up to the second floor of the building, where Toutah and Abu ‘Arafa used to sleep, and confiscated their belongings.
Detention of PLC members continues
Meanwhile, one day after Dweik’s arrest, Israeli forces arrested PLC member Khaled Thwaib near Bethlehem. According to PCHR:
At approximately 03:00 on Friday, 20 January 2012, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) moved into Za’tara village, southeast of Bethlehem. They raided the house of PLC Member Khaled Ibrahim Tafish Thwaib, 48. According to Thwaib’s wife, Aaisha Jameel Thwaib, 50, IOF raided the house and after verifying the ID cards of members of the family, they forced her husband out. They held him under the rain, and held his five sons in one room. Aaisha Jameel insisted on being present while Israeli soldiers were searching the house. IOF confiscated PLC member Thwaib’s mobile phone, laptop and phone book, a hard disk of a computer set and some documents relating to his work. They then handcuffed and blindfolded him and transported him in a military jeep to an unknown destination. On the following day, it was revealed that he was taken to Ofer detention facility, southwest of Ramallah.
In the early hours of 24 January followed the arrest of PLC member Abdul Jaber al-Foqaha. According to PCHR, Israeli forces searched his home in Ramallah, damaged its contents, and arrested him. Al-Foqaha had been released in the beginning of February 2011 following two years of imprisonment in Israeli jails, as he was placed under administrative detention, which was renewed several times.
The number of PLC members detained in the Israeli jails has increased to 27 members — 24 from the Change and Reform Bloc. In addition, the number of former ministers arrested by Israeli forces has mounted to three: Khaled Abu ‘Arafa, former Minister of Jerusalem Affairs; Wasfi Qabha, former Minister of Prisoners’ Affairs; and Isa al-Ja’bari, former Minister of Local Government.
IPU President releases new statement
The IPU is extremely concerned by all situations in which duly elected members of parliament are prevented for whatever reason from carrying out their mandate to represent the people. In this instance in particular, almost 20 per cent of the parliament is in detention. Beyond and above the implications this has for the functioning of the Palestinian Parliament, I believe that this situation puts a serious strain on the peace process. I urge the Israeli authorities to exercise restraint and respect for the parliamentary mandate and to release forthwith the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council in administrative detention.
The efforts of the IPU can be supported by global campaigns for the release of all the Palestinian political prisoners including the child prisoners. Such campaigns can highlight Israeli practices that violate the rights of prisoners and their families, for example administrative detention, solitary confinement, isolation, and denial of family visits.