Mohammed Totah was born in Jerusalem, like his father, grandfather and great grandfather. He’s a Palestinian with permanent residence rights in Jerusalem and a blue Jerusalem ID-card.
He used to run a shop selling textiles and lectured in business administration at the university. His mistake was to be elected an MP. He was elected on the Change and Reform list which is mainly but not exclusively Hamas.
The Israelis issued a deportation order against him and two of his fellow MPs on the grounds of “disloyalty to Israel”. Because the Israelis claim Jerusalem is part of Israel, they regard Palestine as a foreign country (even though they don’t recognise it) and regard it as disloyal for Jerusalemites to be members of its parliament (even though they are Palestinians and not citizens of Israel).
They gave them an ultimatum. They would have to resign from Parliament or leave Jerusalem. They all refused and took refuge in the Red Cross headquarters in Jerusalem and they are still there.
The Israelis have already deported 140,000 Jerusalemites since the occupation started for a variety of reasons, but this is the first time that they have tried to deport anyone on purely political grounds.
The fear is that if they get away with deporting MPs they identify as supporting Hamas, the next to be deported will be the Fatah MPs and indeed anyone living in Jerusalem whom they consider to be “disloyal to Israel” – which would be very nearly the entire Palestinian population. Politicians, diplomats, church leaders, even rabbis have flocked to show solidarity with the “Red Cross Three” and the legal battle continues.
But the deportation order already has fateful consequences for Mohammed’s wife and children, daughters Ola 13 and Tasneem 11 and boys Moaz 8, Abdurrahman 7 and Saad, who was born after Mohamed was issued with his deportation order and is stateless and will therefore never qualify for school in Jerusalem. All the children will be deported if their father is, since both parents must have Jerusalem ID cards for a child to qualify for it.
Mohamed had already spent 3 ½ years in jail before the deportation order. Soon after the 2006 election, which Hamas won, the Israelis arrested 64 Hamas MPs in retaliation for the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Only a day after he was released, in May 2010, they issued the deportation order giving him three weeks to comply. “We spent years in jail. We were separated from our children and they were separated from us. They were expecting when we came out of jail we would be eating around the same table and sleeping under the same roof.
“My seven-year-old old boy said he would never leave the house until I came back. He was waking up in the night screaming because he was dreaming that soldiers came and took us in the night.”
*Post script: since this interview was updated the soldiers did indeed abduct Mohammed Totah from the Red Cross Building. He is now (as of 31st March 2012) one of 27 PLC members were detained. The EU has expressed concern over his detention.