Terra Incognita: Hamas’s ‘Jerusalem 4’ down to 0

Are the four Hamas officials simply good bargaining chips for the long game?

Palestinian holds IRC sign outside Hamas_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
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.
Abu-Salem 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 fence.
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.
According 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 organization.
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 power.
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.