Palestinian holds IRC sign outside Hamas_311.
(photo credit: Reuters)
On Monday Israeli police apprehended two Hamas men who had been living at the
International Committee of the Red Cross compound in east Jerusalem. The arrests
appear to bring to an end a six-year saga in which Israel has played a game of
cat-and-mouse with Hamas members in Jerusalem who served in various political
positions in the Palestinian Authority.
The story of the Jerusalem
legislators goes back to the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, in which
Hamas emerged triumphant, winning an overwhelming majority of the seats in
parliament, or Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
In those elections,
the Jerusalem district, whose borders are larger than Israel’s municipal borders
for east Jerusalem, elected four Muslim Hamas legislators to the Palestinian
parliament: Ibrahim Abu-Salem, Mohammed Totah, Wael el-Husseini and Ahmed Attoun
with 14,000 votes each. Two Christians who are members of Fatah, Emil Jarjouri
and Ivivian (Bernard) Sabella, received only 4,000 votes but were also elected
to two reserved seats in the Jerusalem district.
Another Hamas man from
Jerusalem, the famous red-bearded Mohammed Abu-Tir, was also elected to the
Palestinian parliament on a national, rather than regional, list. Abu-Tir, who
lives in Umm Tuba in southeast Jerusalem, was second on the Hamas election list,
after movement leader Ismail Haniyeh.
The names of Jerusalem’s Hamas
representatives are often reported in a confusing manner. Wael Husseini, for
instance, also goes by the name Wael Mohammed Abdul Rahman.
The oddity of
having east Jerusalem Arabs participate in both Israeli and Palestinian
elections has been a thorn in Israel’s side since the 1990s. In 1995 Israel
agreed to allow east Jerusalem Arabs the ability to vote at post offices in east
Jerusalem and for the votes to be subsequently shipped to Ramallah, as if the
Arabs were voting in an “absentee” election. This seemed like a good idea since
it meant there would be no public campaigning by Hamas and no Palestinian-run
polling stations. During the 2006 elections, Abu-Tir was briefly detained by
Israeli police for publicly campaigning for Hamas.
After the election
results were in, however, it became clear that having Hamas legislators in east
Jerusalem would prove problematic. On May 29 the Interior Ministry
announced that it was considering revoking the residency permits of four Hamas
members from east Jerusalem: Abu-Tir, Totah, Attoun and Khaled Abu Arafah.
Abu-Arafah was a Hamas member who served as the Minister for Jerusalem Affairs
in the Hamas government.
“It is not possible to reconcile the
petitioners’ positions and activities as senior Hamas officials with their
continued residence in Israel,” noted the Interior Ministry.
was not on the list because he lives in Bir Naballa, outside the security
barrier, and Husseini apparently lives in al- Ram, probably also outside the
THE MEN appealed the ministry’s orders to various courts,
eventually losing their appeals in 2010. But between 2006 and 2010 several of
them ended up in prison during a general round-up of Hamas legislators in the
wake of the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit.
In the wake of their appeals
being denied the imprisonments began again, this time with the intention of
expelling the men from the capital. Abu-Tir was the first to be caught, while
sitting in a car in Sur Baher in July of 2010. Sitting next to him was Mr.
Attoun but the police ignored the second man, despite the fact that he too was
now residing illegally in Jerusalem. Attoun then gathered up Abu-Arafah and
Totah and fled to the Red Cross headquarters in east Jerusalem.
to then-ICRC spokeswoman Dorothea Krimitsas, the Red Cross said the men could
stay on the premises, seemingly allowing them to transform the compound into
their own personal Jerusalem Hamas headquarters and residence. The NGO did
explain that it could not prevent Israel from removing them since the building
had no special status. According to reports Krimitsas explained that the Red
Cross had no stance on whether Hamas represented a terror
In September of 2011 Attoun carelessly wandered too close
to the entrance of the ICRC building and was nabbed by Israeli policemen
disguised as Arabs. According to the Palestine News and Information Agency
(WAFA), two weeks ago Totah and Abu-Arafeh received a phone call telling them
to leave Jerusalem within 48 hours or they would be arrested. On Monday police
apparently jumped over a back wall of the Red Cross compound and hauled the last
two wanted men up and away, into custody.
For six years this game has
gone on, and it is not clear to what effect. The men have certainly been
frustrated in their attempts to be lawmakers, but Palestinian Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas’ hold on Ramallah has anyway kept Hamas from
Perhaps now that Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is in the air, and in
the aftermath of the arrest of PLC speaker and Hamas member Aziz Dweik at a
Jerusalem-area checkpoint a week ago, Israel is sending a message that it will
not allow these additional Hamas men back to Ramallah. This would ironic, since
initially they could have left Jerusalem on their own.
At the same time
as these sudden arrests Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat is meeting Israeli
officials in Jordan. So are the “Jerusalem Four,” as they were sometimes called
(although there were only three of them at the Red Cross compound) simply good
bargaining chips for the long game? The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University
and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.