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Interview with Khalida Jarrar, Prominent Palestinian Activist and Parliamentary Member, After her Release from Prison

Khalida Jarrar in Addameer offices, Ramallah taken by interviewer. Khalida Jarrar in Addameer offices, Ramallah taken by interviewer.

Khalida Jarrar is a longtime Palestinian activist, feminist, and leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). She served as the Director of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association between 1993 and 2005 and has been a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) since 2006 where she leads the committee on political prisoners.

In 2014, the Israeli military ordered that Jarrar move from her home in Ramallah to Jericho. Under the Oslo framework, both cities are in Area A, the twelve percent of the Occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip subject to Palestinian civil and security jurisdiction. The deportation order is on its face, violative of this arrangement. In response, Jarrar staged a month long sit-in in front of the PLC offices in Ramallah and, together with international support, successfully overturned the military order. 

On 2 April 2015, Israeli military forces arrested Jarrar in a pre-dawn raid where they forcibly removed her from her home. She served six months under administrative detention, the martial law framework that authorizes Israeli forces to detain any Palestinian without charge or trial for up to six months at a time that can be renewed indefinitely. In response to international protest, the military ended its administrative detention and charged Jarrar with twelve counts all related to her political activity. She accepted a plea bargain whereby she would serve a fifteen-month sentence and pay a 10,000 NIS fine (~2,600 USD) for being a member of the PFLP and incitement. She chose not to go to trial to challenge her detention because of her lack of faith in the occupation court, which has a 99.7 percent conviction rate against Palestinian defendants

In late July 2016, two months after her release, I met with Jarrar in the Addameer offices in Ramallah to discuss the conditions of her captivity as well as her visions for the future of Palestinian struggle and liberation.

On Captivity

Noura Erakat [NE]: According to Addameer there are currently 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners, including seventy women and girl prisoners Can you tell me a little bit more about their condition of captivity.  

Khalida Jarrar [KJ]: In the year and a half I was imprisoned, there was a total of twenty-five young girls and fourteen were left when I was released. These girls are charged with stabbing or attempted stabbing of an Israeli soldier. Many of them do not have internet, let alone facebook; they were not influenced by social media. They were very impacted by seeing young girls attacked and killed like Hadeel Hashlamon and Yasmeen al Zaru. Seeing these young girls attacked and killed mercilessly drove them to attempt to attack Israel’s occupation forces.

NE: Palestinian detention is historically known as a space of politicization. Did you find that to be the case during your recent captivity?

KJ: There were twenty-five young girls in captivity when I arrived so I organized with the other prisoners to establish a school for them. The primary interlocutor is Lena Jarbouni. Each prison has a representative that negotiates with the Israeli prison administration, Lena was that representative for all of us. She has been in prison since 2003, she is a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship and has not been released in any of the subsequent prisoner exchanges. By the time she serves her sentence and is released, she will have served the longest sentence among all Palestinian female prisoners. She was arrested at twenty-six and will be released at forty-one. She was very effective and a leader in her all rights. 

Together, we took advantage of a military law that allows minors to be educated in captivity. We used that to get a Palestinian teacher from the ’48 territories from 8:30 AM-3 PM. We created a classroom for them as well as a library. The Israeli Prison Administration permits each prisoner to bring in up to two books a month delivered by their families. We created a library and appointed one of the young girls to be the librarian.

As students, these girls were exempt from the rest of the prison administration. In general, we were given a total of three hours of free time when we could leave our cells and be outdoors. The girls were able to leave their cells from morning until 3 PM for schooling. I used my free time to also teach the students a course on political philosophy.

NE: These girls are spending a critical portion of their formative years in captivity. Do you feel that they are prepared to re-enter society and all its norms upon release?

KJ: Yes, that is the point; to avoid a severe interruption in their development. There were several girls that can take the tawjihi, a matriculation exam upon which entry to university depends. Last year, all five girls who took it in prison passed. This year, four girls are preparing for the exam.

In addition, we introduced them to several crafts that can be useful. We taught them how to make tatreez, traditional cross-stitch, as well as jewelry, and notebooks.  I remain in communication with them. Part of the issue is general political and social awareness around women’s issues and part of the work I see for myself now is work with women’s organizations to better educate young girls and women about gender issues, women’s rights, as well political awareness, more generally.

Kangaroo Court and Conviction

NE: Your arrest came abruptly after you had successfully defied Israeli Military orders to leave your own home in Ramallah and to move to Jericho. Of course this order is in and of itself in violation of existing laws…

KJ: [laughs loudly] What law? 

NE: I know, theoretically speaking…anyway, after you defied the law, on what grounds did they arrest you?  

KJ: I refused to obey their deportation order and began a sit-in in front of the PLC building where others joined me for a month in defiance of the order. Ultimately, Israeli forces arrested me on grounds for refusing the order. Once in custody, they convicted me for fifteen months for being a member of the PFLP and incitement. The accusations were ridiculous and unfounded.

The charges said that one time I visited prisoners who had just been released and they considered my visit as material support for terrorism. Another time I gave a speech in front of the PFLP flag and the military alleged that doing so endorsed the destruction of Israel. In the list of charges, they even included my attendance of a book fair where I asked fair goers, “hello, how are you?” That was grounds for imprisonment.

This is the problem with military law, being Palestinian is sufficient grounds for detention. 

I spent six months in administrative detention before the military even made any charges against me. If it were not for the international support I received, I could have spent much longer in captivity without charge or trial.

One time Addameer, asked that I be released on bail and the first judge agreed that I was not a security threat and granted me release on bail. The military lawyers appealed and said that if I was released, the military would re-arrest me under administrative detention. They brought nineteen witnesses against me, none of whom were material. They merely recounted that I visited someone recently released from prison or attended a public event. I refused to testify. It was a theater. 

Post-release: The Situation is the Same and Worse  

NE: How do you see the situation since you have been released?

KJ: It has only been two months since I have been out. I found everything as it was and a little worse. The occupation seems to be worsening in all of its dimensions.

The United States is attempting to enforce greater fragmentation among our communities. Arab states are engaged in explicit normalization with Israel diminishing our ability to apply pressure upon Israel. These states now want to modify the Arab Peace Initiative so that they can normalize relations with Israel even without achieving a resolution to the conflict or the Palestinian condition. Regionally, groups like ISIS are destabilizing conditions so that the Palestinian Question is fading in significance. Palestinian refugees fleeing Syria are pressured to accept whatever is being offered to them because the future is going to be worse; further weakening claims for return. 

NE: Do you have a vision for alternative strategies for liberation?

KJ: There are alternatives but there is not a lot of support for them. The schism in Palestinian society and politics is deep and it is affecting us. At the very least, the Palestinian leadership should initiate a global conference to initiate all existing international laws meant to protect Palestinians- this is an alternative to the current political track. Everything else has failed and they can push for this as a call for protection in the face of failed politics.

NE: A fundamental part of the problem is the formal Palestinian leadership itself. How do Palestinians overcome this obstacle? 

KJ: We need to return to a political and popular referendum. We need a leadership that is closer to the Palestinian street; we need a unified popular leadership unified similar to the structures we had during the first Intifada. We are currently in a state of sumoud, steadfastness, we need political support to strengthen this somoud. In practice, our existing leadership has undermined all existing and decentralized Palestinian resistance efforts.

Right now, not everyone is convinced resistance is even possible. In fact, a large segment of society believes that these conditions are opportune for them. They are not making any demands, not even for international protection. No provision of food or shelter or security or even hope.

This is not the work of any one individual or even several individuals. This is the work of groups and movements. And here if you breathe you are arrested, which makes it even harder to nurture such groups and develop those movements.

NE: So how do we fill this gap between what is necessary and what is possible?

KJ: People will fill it. During my trial, I stated that “I represent a people and my people are under occupation and it is my right to protest.” The military judge ordered me to be placed in solitary confinement for saying this. But my fellow prisoners protested so much that I was never placed in solitary.

We need to be patient, not to lose hope, not to lose track. And there will be a accumulation of efforts that will lead to change. We need to have hope that we will be victorious. We are not unique in our condition, other peoples have overcome worse or similar conditions. If our generation is not the one to accomplish this than it will be achieved by other generations to come.

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