Israeli forces conducted sweeping overnight arrest campaigns in the West Bank at the beginning of the week, according to news sources and the human rights group Addameer. Most of those targeted in the dawn raids are leaders in the Hamas movement, three of whom are elected lawmakers in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
The arrested members of parliament include Ahmad Attoun, who was forcibly transferred from his hometown of Jerusalem to the West Bank city of Ramallah after Israeli forces stormed the International Committee of the Red Cross in occupied East Jerusalem, where Attoun had taken refuge, in September 2011.
Also arrested were PLC members Hatem Fiqisha and Muhammad al-Tal, both from Hebron. All three had previously been imprisoned by Israel, according to a statement posted on Addameer’s Facebook page.
Israel currently holds as political prisoners 15 Palestinian legislators, five of whom are held without charge or trial, a practice known as administrative detention.
The Palestinian news agency Ma’an, citing an Israeli military spokesperson, reported that a total of 25 Palestinians were arrested in the overnight raids on Sunday in multiple West Bank cities and towns, including 23 persons affiliated with Hamas. Ma’an adds: “Twelve other Hamas officials were seized in the raids overnight Saturday, as well as several Palestinians not holding a political position, according to local sources.”
Both the cities of Nablus and Ramallah are designated as “Area A,” under nominal Palestinian Authority control, according to the Oslo accords signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel in the mid-1990s. However, Israel routinely raids areas ostensibly under Palestinian autonomy and faces no resistance from the Palestinian Authority.
The Gaza-based minister of prisoners’ affairs, Atallah Abu al-Sabh, stated that the arrests “wouldn’t have been made without high-level security coordination” between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, according to Ma’an.
Israel’s latest arrest of Palestinian legislators gives lie to the farce of democracy and self-rule under occupation. Scores of Palestinian lawmakers have been arrested by Israel in the past several years.
Addameer notes that rather than banning Hamas from participating in the 2006 legislative elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it instead persecuted those running for office on Hamas’ Change and Reform bloc, which won a majority of seats in the elections.
According to Addameer:
On 26 September 2005, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) launched their campaign of arrest against PLC members, detaining 450 members of the Hamas party mostly involved in the 2006 PLC elections, either through active campaigning or who were taking part in the municipal elections in various West Bank cities. The majority of those detained were kept in administrative detention for different periods.
There was another wave of arrests targeting Palestinian lawmakers following the June 2006 capture of an Israeli soldier who was held prisoner in the Gaza Strip.
“The Israeli government announced after the operation that Palestinian members of parliament and cabinet ministers have no immunity. Israel threatened to detain them as a bargaining chip to win the release of the Israeli soldier imprisoned in the Gaza Strip,” according to Addameer.
Later that month and in early July 2006, Israel raided several West Bank population centers, arresting “scores of Hamas supporters, including cabinet ministers and members of the PLC,” writes Addameer.
Israel declared the Change and Reform bloc illegal in February 2007, “one year after the elections were held and most of the arrests carried out,” Addameer points out. Many senior Hamas officials were charged and approximately 40 PLC members were indicted for membership or association with Hamas and received sentences between 32 and 54 months, several of them re-arrested after serving out their sentence.