Palestinian PM's Daughter Leaving Eshel PrisonThe past two weeks have seen a deluge of reports about the family ties linking Palestinian Prime Minister Ismā'īl Haniyye to, surprise, surprise, the state of Israel. It all started rather "innocently" with a visit gone awry. On 29 May 2006, Haniyye’s 17 year old daughter Khawla was briefly arrested as she was visiting her fiancé (himself an unidentified relative of hers) in the Eshel Prison near Be’er Sheva. It turns out that poor Khawla got herself into a bit of a jam, because she had used a personal identification card belonging to her finance’s sister. According to the Saudi-owned, London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, the Israelis caught on after listening in on the conversation between the couple and overhearing the unnamed finance’s enquiries about her father the Prime Minister. The girl was released by the Israeli police shortly thereafter and went back to the Gaza Strip from where she had entered Israel via the Erez Crossing. Haniyye, for his part, was said by Palestinian government spokesman Ghāzi Hamd to have responded to the news,"بأعصاب هادئة جدا جدا" ("very very calmly"). Yeah, right, I’m sure he cussed her out real good once she got back.
This story caused a small storm in the Israeli and Arab media. I was actually moderately impressed by Al-Sharq al-Awsat’s restrained coverage of this marginal event. On the one hand, the paper, like almost every Arab media outlet, has a dumb tendency to preface anything Israel-related with the word "occupation" as in:
افرجت سلطات الاحتلال الاسرائيلي عن خولة، كريمة رئيس الوزراء الفلسطيني اسماعيل هنية، في سجن ايشيل في منطقة بئر السبع
(Translation: "The Israeli occupation authorities freed Khawla in [sic] Eshel prison in the Be’er Sheva area")
I guess the implication is that the Israeli police will always be regarded as occupation forces by the Arab media, even if they are carrying out their duties in Israel proper, as was the case here. Nevertheless, to its credit, the paper did not turn this into some libellous story about Israel "violating the honour" of Palestinian women and young girls, a claim that a reader commenting online on the Al-Sharq al-Awsat article indeed made:
عبير عرفات، «الولايات المتحدة الامريكية»، 30/05/2006
حرمات المسلمين تنتهك في كل فلسطين وليس على الآنسة الفاضلة خولة اسماعيل هنية. وغيرتنا على كل أخواتنا وأمهاتنا وبناتنا في فلسطين نابعة من وحدتنا تحت راية لا إله إلا الله.
(Translation: "Comment posted by ‘Abeer ‘Arafat from the USA:
The honour of Muslims is violated all over Palestine, and not only [in the case of] the wonderful Ms. Khawla Ismā'īl Haniyye. We fear for all our sisters, mothers and daughters in Palestine […]")
This whole episode was actually quite insignificant, although it should have raised a few eyebrows seeing as to how we are always given the impression that the Gaza Strip is completely cut off from Israel and that it is usually portrayed as a "giant prison". It did make me wonder, though, about the way in which this girl entered Israel. Of course, she would have entered “legally”, perhaps after requesting a visitor’s permit on humanitarian grounds. The newspapers did not really shed much light on these details. What I know, however, is that this is quite a trip to make for a young Palestinian girl who presumably came all the way without the accompaniment of a guardian. In a western society, seeing a young woman travelling on her own would not create much of a stir, but in a more traditional Arab society such as that found in the Gaza Strip, young women are not usually allowed to venture off wherever they please. To get to Israel from the Gaza Strip, one often needs to take commuter taxis to the Erez Crossing and then more commuter taxis (usually illegal taxis operated by Israeli Bedouin drivers) from the border to the prison.
So, before this girl set out, she, her family, her finance’s family, his friends or, perhaps, his political movement (it was never revealed whether the fiancé is a Hamas member and what he is imprisoned for) would have had to be sure that she would be in good hands. In short, to get this young girl to the prison would have required a considerable degree of organization and contacts that could be trusted on the Israeli side. Of course, I might be totally wrong; another possibility is that the Israel Prisons Service (which, by the way, has a fine high-tech website with flash clips and even an Arabic section devoted to "clearing up rumours") operates some kind of shuttle to bring prisoners’ relatives from the Gaza Strip to Israel. Judging on recent reports about Haniyye’s family connections in Israel, however, there is reason to believe that other people were helping out.
Details to follow in subsequent posts…