Khalida Jarrar

Khalida Jarrar
Khalida Jarrar

Statistics are important. We can know the official count of the dead and realize that this represents only those who have been identified and that many more bodies remain, killed but unidentified and uncounted, under the bombed homes and hospitals, schools and refugee camps.

We can know that most people in Gaza are displaced—homeless, in fact—and hungry. The number of doctors killed, the number of reporters, the number of children injured and without medical care: These are important numbers. But numbers have no faces. I hope we can see ourselves in this short account of the complex life of a Palestinian woman, an activist and a scholar, who has recently been arrested yet again.

  • Understand: She is a hostage, as are the thousands of Palestinians imprisoned without cause.
  • Consider: If this is what happens to those Palestinians who struggle for liberation and freedom from occupation through education and nonviolent means, then what?

Arrested and Imprisoned for Publishing a Paper

Israel again arrested Jarrar on Dec. 26. She is a prominent human rights and women’s rights activist and former Palestinian Legislative Council representative; she lives in Ramallah, in the West Bank. Occupation forces arrested Jarrar a few days after she published a research paper titled “Violations against Female and Male Prisoners during the Genocidal War on Gaza,” in which she detailed the violations and crimes committed against prisoners inside Israeli occupation prisons since Oct. 7.

First Arrest: International Women’s Day Rally

She has been arrested and imprisoned numerous times, first in 1989, on the occasion of International Women’s Day. She spent a month in prison for taking part in the March 8 rally. Since 1998, Jarrar has been banned from traveling outside of the occupied Palestinian territories, after she attended the Human Rights Defenders Summit in Paris that year.

One Imprisonment after Another

In 2015, she was seized in a pre-dawn raid by Israeli occupation soldiers who stormed her house in Ramallah. Initially, she was held in administrative detention without trial, but, following an international outcry, Israeli authorities tried Jarrar in a military court, where 12 charges, based entirely on her political activities, were made against her. Some of the charges included giving speeches, holding vigils and expressing support for Palestinian detainees and their families. She spent 15 months in prison.

Jarrar was released in June 2016, only to be arrested again in July 2017 in a raid on her home by Israeli soldiers, who broke down the door. She was also held under administrative detention. She was interrogated at Ofer Prison before being transferred to HaSharon Prison, where many Palestinian female prisoners are held.

During this period of imprisonment she developed a literacy program for Palestinian women prisoners. She was released in February 2019, after spending nearly 20 months in prison.

Compassionate Leave Refused

She was rearrested in Ramallah in October 2019 and held without trial or charge until March 2021, when she plea-bargained with the Israeli military court, “admitting” that she was a member of the organization Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in order to avoid indefinite detention. She was released in September 2021.

During this period of imprisonment, one of her two daughters died suddenly of a cardiac problem and Jarrar was denied even a compassionate leave to attend the funeral.

Some Biographical Details

Jarrar was born in Nablus in the West Bank on Feb. 9, 1963. She has a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in democracy and human rights from Birzeit University. She served as a director of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association from 1994 to 2006, when she was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC)—the Palestinian Parliament.

She now heads the PLC’s Prisoners Commission, in addition to her role on the Palestinian National Committee for follow-up with the International Criminal Court.

She is married to Ghassan Jarrar, whom she met when they both were students. He was also an activist; he has been arrested 14 times and has spent about 11 years in administrative detention in Israeli prisons, without charges. They had two daughters, Yafa, who has a law degree, and Suha, who had an M.S. in climate change science and policy, and who died in 2021.

Teaching Fellow Women Prisoners

Here is a small part of what she wrote about her prison literacy campaign, carried out during her own periods of imprisonment:

“I decided to make it my mission to focus on the issue of education for women who were denied the opportunity to finish school, whether as children or those who were denied such a right due to difficult social conditions…

“Just seeing the excitement on the faces of the girls when I floated the idea by them inspired me to take on the daunting task, the first such initiative in the history of Palestinian women prisoners in Israeli jails.

“We had few school supplies. In fact, each class had to share a single textbook that was left by Palestinian child prisoners before they were transferred by IPS to another facility. We copied the few textbooks by hand; this way, several students were able to follow the lessons at the same time…

“In July 2017, the Israeli military arrested me again, this time for 20 months. I returned to the same HaSharon Prison. There were many more female prisoners than before. Immediately, with the help of other qualified prisoners, we began preparing for the fourth group to graduate. This time, nine female prisoners were studying for the exam. There were more volunteer teachers and administrators. The prison had suddenly bloomed, turning into a place of learning and empowerment.

“The prison administration went crazy! They accused me of incitement and began a series of retaliatory measures to shut down the whole schooling process. We accepted the challenge. When they closed our classroom, we went on strike. When they confiscated our pens and pencils, we used crayons instead. When they hauled away our blackboard, we unhooked a window and wrote on it. We smuggled it from one room to another, during the times that we had designated for learning. The prison guards tried every trick in the book to prevent us from our right to education. To show our determination to defeat the prison authorities, we named the fourth group ‘The Cohort of Defiance.’ In the end, our will proved mightier than their injustice. We completed the entire process. All the girls who took the final exam passed with flying colors.

“In the end, we did more than fashion hope out of despair. We also evolved in our narrative, in the way we perceive ourselves, the prison and the prison guards. We defeated any lingering sense of inferiority and turned the walls of prison into an opportunity. When I saw the beautiful smiles on the faces of my students who completed their high school education in prison, I felt that my mission has been accomplished.”

“Hope in prison is like a flower that grows out of a stone. For us Palestinians, education is our greatest weapon. With it, we will always be victorious.”

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