Israel kidnaps two more Palestinian lawmakers: UFree calls for international action
Oslo, Norway -- Jan. 24, 2012
Israel’s violent seizure and arrest this week of two senior members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) is a brazen violation of international law and the diplomatic immunity universally accorded to elected leaders of government and parliament, charges the Oslo-based NGO UFree Network.
Former Jerusalem Affairs Minister Khaled Abu Arafah and fellow lawmaker Mohammed Totah were forcibly removed Monday, Jan. 23, from the East Jerusalem headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross, where they had sought refuge for more than 18 months to avoid Israeli revocation of their residency status in the city.
"Together with Ahmed Attoun, a PLC member who was arrested in September, Abu Arafah and Totah had been staging a sit-in on the premises of the ICRC since July 1, 2010, to protest against a decision of the Israeli authorities to deport them," the ICRC stated in a press release. "Under international humanitarian law, East Jerusalem is an occupied territory, and its Palestinian residents are therefore protected persons within the jurisdiction of Article 4 of the Fourth Geneva Convention."
Other than issuing this statement, the ICRC has done nothing more, insisting that the organization holds no diplomatic status in Israel and thus cannot protect the lawmakers from arrest.
However, Mohammed Hamdan, chairman of UFree Network, an Oslo-based NGO that advocates for the rights Palestinian political prisoners and detainees in Israeli detention, says that is not enough.
“It is time for the international community -- including the International Committee of the Red Cross -- to start enforcing humanitarian law,” says Hamdan. “The Israeli government forced its way onto the grounds of an international organization, arresting democratically elected lawmakers and forcing them to leave the city of their birth. These are the actions of a thug, not the ‘oasis of civilization’ it claims to be.”
UFree Network is calling on all members of the public who believe in democracy and the rule of law to send letters to their representatives in parliament across the world, demanding that Israel be held to account and pressured into releasing the imprisoned PLC members. A sample letter can be found on UFree Network’s website www.ufree-p.net
Shortly after the 2006 PLC elections, Totah, Abu Arafah and two other Palestinian politicians were ordered by Israeli authorities to resign from the Hamas-led government chosen by the people or have their East Jerusalem permanent- resident status revoked
When they refused, the four men were prosecuted before an Israeli military court and sentenced to two to four years in prison. Shortly after their release in the summer of 2010, the Israeli authorities again threatened to forcibly transfer the men and strip them of their East Jerusalem residency rights. When they refused to leave once again, Muhammad Abu Tir was sent back to jail and the three remaining MPLCs to refuge at the ICRC compound to avoid a similar fate. They had sheltered there ever since.
Meanwhile, Israel is currently holding 26 PLC members in its jails, with the latest being Dr. Aziz Duwaik. The Speaker of the PLC was first imprisoned by Israel on Aug. 6, 2006. He was released on June 22, 2009, before being re-arrested Jan. 19 of this year, while traveling to the West Bank city of Hebron.
“With the PLC scheduled to meet in February, for the first time since 2007, Israel is obviously running scared at the prospect of a unified, strong, Palestinian government,” said Hamdan, noting that elections are planned for May this year. “It’s time for the United Nations, its member countries and human rights NGOs around the world to prove that democracy is what they want and support.”
For more information, visit www.ufree-p.net