Twenty-seven Palestinian parliamentarians who won in democratically organised elections are held behind Israeli bars without charge or trial. Their sin is that they dared believe in an electoral process that was hailed by democratic countries as the proper channel of political expression.
Palestinian cartoonists are describing Israeli jails as the headquarters of the Palestinian Legislative Council.
On January 25, 2006, elections were held in the West Bank and Gaza for the Palestinian Legislative Council. The elections were supervised by the Independent Commission for Elections (a rarity in the Arab world). International observers, including former US president Jimmy Carter, were present and declared the elections free and fair. Israel also gave its blessings, albeit indirectly, by allowing the elections to take place, the candidates to move around and the ballot boxes to cross various checkpoints.
While the results of the elections were not pleasing to Israel and the West, no direct action was taken against those elected, which in any normal situation would have immunity.
The Islamic-leaning Reform and Change bloc won majority seats and declared publicly the day after the announcement of the results that it has nothing to do with the Islamic Hamas movement or its military wing. The statement was published in Al Quds daily, but has not been followed up since.
The idea was to separate from Hamas just like Sinn Fein was trying to separate from the Irish Republican Army. The attempt did not work, however, because Israel and the US treated the newly elected legislatures as one and the same with Hamas. That was political. But why make it personal by arresting these people?
At first it was in reaction to the detention of an Israeli soldier by the popular resistance brigades. Israeli rightwing activists and hardcore settlers started calling on the government to retaliate by arresting Hamas leaders.
As has become the routine, ideas that seem radical and extreme when uttered by such individuals all of a sudden appear to be rational when enacted by the Israeli army.
Tens of Palestinian parliamentarians, including the speaker of the legislature, were arrested without any reason and held without charge or trial. Israel seems, again, to want to use parliamentarians as a bargaining chip.
Unable to scuttle and derail the reconciliation process between Hamas and Fateh, the Israelis seem to be intent on preventing the Palestinian Legislative Council from being held. Last week they arrested the former speaker of the Palestinian legislature, Dr Hassan Dweik. Even though the 63-year-old professor was never an official member of Hamas, an Israeli military court approved the six-month detention without the Israeli authorities presenting evidence or cause for his incarcerations.
Two Palestinian parliamentarians from Jerusalem, who the Israelis are trying to strip of their residency, were abducted from the premises of International Committee of the Red Cross by Israeli intelligence officers dressed in civilian clothing and posing as Palestinians.
Some Palestinian cynics are saying that the Israeli actions against the parliamentarians are intended to improve the image of Hamas, as a counter to the Palestinian leader who is refusing to cooperate on negotiations until settlement activities are suspended.
Ironically, European and American officials have been pressing the Israeli leadership to help improve the standing of Mahmoud Abbas who received a political beating as a result of Israel releasing many prisoners in an exchange agreement with Hamas.
International law and human rights conventions are very clear about individual responsibility. Collective punishment and guilt by association are illegal as per the international humanitarian law. Besides being politically damaging and in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the arrest of elected representatives for no specific reason and holding them without charge or trial goes against all democratic principles.
At a time of international support for the Arab Spring and its core message of democratic freedoms, the Israeli actions are one more example of why its decades-long occupation is not only violating Palestinian rights but also eroding the values of what the world still believes is the "Middle East’s only democracy".