Jarrar and Meng: Unrelenting women walk out of jail

Khalida Jarrar, right, and Meng Wanzhou


By Owei Lakemfa

Two women in the last seven days have walked out of jail, unrepentant, heads held high, dignity in place, unperturbed and symbolising the hopes and aspirations of their peoples.

One of them, Khalida Jarrar, 58-year-old Palestinian law maker, released after two years in Israeli prison, has been in jail at least four times, and  knows that if she does not betray the hopes of her people, she will soon be back in prison.

But the other, Meng Wanzhou, 49-year-old Chief Financial Officer of the Chinese Huawei Technologies who has spent the last three years in confinement in Canada, is unlikely to ever experience captivity again.

Jarrar’s alleged crime is her insistence that just as the Israelis have a homeland and definable borders, so must her people, the Palestinians. Since the Israeli state cannot make the allegation of Jarrar being violent or planning violence stick, they simply accuse her of belonging to a terrorist organisation, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP.

Indeed, all organisations, including the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, PLO, who seek self-determination for Palestinians are classified by Israel, as “terrorist”.

What might have made Jarrar’s latest stint in jail more painful is that two months ago, she lost her 31-year- old daughter, Suha Ghassan Jarrar, a human rights activist with a Master of Science degree in Climate Change Science and Policy.

Israel rejected all pleas to allow Jarrar out for a  furlough to enable her bury her daughter and return to detention. So she had to watch the funeral on television.

This Sunday, on leaving prison, Jarrar visited her daughter’s graveside at the Ramallah Cemetery. She knelt down, broke down in tears and lamented: “They forbade me from participating in the funeral of my beloved daughter and from planting a kiss on my daughter’s forehead.

They denied me her farewell…The last time I hugged Suha was the night of my arrest in 2019.” Jarrar has been banned from leaving the country since 1998 after attending that year’s Human Rights Defenders’ Summit in Paris.

Jarrar who was first imprisoned in 1989, was for a dozen years from 1994, the director of Al-Dameer, a non-profit organisation dedicated to offering legal assistance to prisoners.   She was elected in 2006 into the Palestinian legislature.

On August 23, 2019, an attack against Israeli targets led to the death of 17-year- old Rina Shnerb. Israel accused the PFLP of carrying out the attack and rounded up dozens of its members, including Jarrar who was held without trial  for one year.

On August 20, 2014, 50 Israeli soldiers surrounded her home and served her with an order to leave her Ramallah home for Jericho; a South Africa apartheid era system of internal banishment. But she refused to be banished saying: “It is the occupation who must leave our homeland.” This saw her back in prison in 2015 and 2016 on charges of “promoting terror activities”. She was again imprisoned in 2017 for 19 months on similar charges.

The Palestine is for many humans, the land of promise. The sources of some of the biggest religions on earth today: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are traceable to Palestine. It was a colony of Britain when some Europeans of Jewish ancestry were searching for an homeland.

They had built an homeland in the United States which collapsed; they started another one in present day Uganda which was quickly abandoned, and had their most enduring and largest one in the defunct Soviet Union.

However, the genocide carried out against the Jews by Hitlerite Germany made a number of the Europeans, especially from Eastern Europe, head for Palestine which had Jews, Palestinians and Arabs as indigenes.

The new European immigrants using terror, forced out the British colonialists. Their biggest attack was the July 22, 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel which housed the headquarters of the British colonial authorities. Ninety-one persons were killed in that bombing with dozens injured.

On May 14, 1948, Israel declared its independence, won the follow up war against its neigbours and started the systematic expulsion of the Palestinians. The 1967 six-day war which Israel also won, led to more expulsions, seizure of more Palestinian lands and occupation of the rest.

The PFLP was established that same year to fight for the fundamental human rights of the Palestinians to self-determination and a homeland within secured borders. On leaving prison this Sunday, Jarrar draped around her neck, the Palestinian flag of the horizontal tricolour of black, green and white with a red triangle, a defiant gesture that announced her eternal wedlock to the Palestinian struggle.

The day before Jarrar’s release, Meng Wanzhou flew into Shenzhen, China. Clad in a red gown, she proclaimed: “I’m finally back home! Where there is a Chinese flag, there is a beacon of faith. If faith has a colour, it must be China red.”

The trade war between China and the United States had seen the latter accusing Meng and Huawei of making false claims to an American bank in order to conceal its trade with Iran, a country under American sanctions. It had subsequently requested Canada to arrest and extradite Meng. Incredibly, Canada agreed to play the American game and ended up being a pawn in the China – American chess game.

Canada arrested Meng on December 1, 2018 and commenced extradition processes. China retaliated by seizing Canadian businessman, Michael Spavor and on August 11, 2021,  sentenced him to 11 years imprisonment for alleged spying. It seized a second Canadian, Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat also charging him with offences against the Chinese state.

In my August 13, 2021 column titled ‘Playing Lionel Messi with diplomacy,’ I had written that: “Canada has staked so much in the Meng case and its judiciary will be held to ridicule if it were to set Meng free.

So the best option is for America to withdraw the extradition request. With that, Spavor and Kovrig will return home.” Last Friday, September 24, 2021, America withdrew the extradition request, next day, Meng went home just as the Canadians were freed.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudea while welcoming the pair, told them: “You’ve shown incredible strength, resilience and perseverance. Know that Canadians across the country will continue to be here for you, just as they have been.”

In setting  the Canadians free shortly after Meng’s release, some have accused China of ‘Hostage Diplomacy’ but  in the first place, Meng was but  a Prisoner of War, POW, in the America-China trade war. So it balances out as essentially an exchange of POWs.

Jarrar and Meng have come to symbolise the resistance of their various countries against formidable odds. They displayed unconquerable spirits and stood out as women who will never sell out.