Carleton student remembers life in Palestine

By the age of seven, Yafa Jarrar had endured enough military brutality to last a lifetime. As a Palestinian living in Israeli-occupied territory, Jarrar says her daily life involved an identity card, checkpoints, and constant fear her family members would be arrested by the Israeli military.

For Jarrar, the hardest part of living through the self-described “colonization” was experiencing the imprisonment of her parents. Both her mother and her father were jailed, without charge, for varying lengths of time during her childhood.

“My father was imprisoned under administrative detention for over 10 and a half years,” says Jarrar. During her lifetime, his jail time has spanned “between three years and four months,” she says.

“Throughout the years, my father has been severely tortured inside detention centres in Israel,” says Jarrar, stressing he was also tortured, almost murdered, outside of the centres as well.

Administrative detention means the Israeli military are able to arrest Palestinians without a warrant or explanation, because they live under military law.

At 17, Jarrar moved from the West Bank to Canada, and is currently working on her master’s degree in political science at Carleton.

Jarrar recounted the typical way the Israelis would arrest her father. “The arrests were violent,” she remembers.

Despite the violence, Jarrar says the worst part was the degradation.

“[They] humiliated my father in front of me. What they would do to my father when they entered, was tie his hands in the back and both his legs, and blindfold him. And many times after they did that, they would beat him up, in front of us. And then drag him to a jeep or bulldozer standing outside, and take him somewhere without telling us where,” Jarrar says.

It was common for soldiers, wielding large guns, to stay at the Jarrar residence after ripping the father away from his wife and daughters, she says.

The soldiers would choose one family member, usually Jarrar at the age of six or seven, to accompany them through the house, ransacking it, “searching for nothing,” she says. “They’ve taken things like birth certificates, and family photos… ultimately, the goal of taking such documents is just to make the life harder.”

Israel and Palestine have a long history. Israel took control of the West Bank from Jordan, and Gaza from Egypt in 1967, and would not give the land back without a peace agreement, says Mira Sucharov, associate professor of political science at Carleton.

“The Israeli narrative is their occupation message, and the fact of occupation, period, is there for one word, and that is security,” Sucharov says.

The Palestinian state hasn’t yet emerged because the two sides haven’t agreed on the future of the West Bank, Sucharov explains.

Sucharov explains that the Israeli absence of trust in the Palestinians have become a major barrier in negotiations and a cause for extended occupation. Fear of suicide bombings and the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising, has made Israel fearful of giving control back to Palestine, Sucharov says.

“Every single memory of my life has to do with Israeli occupation,” Jarrar says. “There were so many traumas in my life.”

“Life under occupation is not something I would wish on anybody,” Sucharov says.

Jarrar was born in Jerusalem, now part of Israel, and raised in Ramallah, located in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. Israeli restrictions have become so rigid that as a resident of the West Bank, she cannot return to her birthplace.

This restriction is the same for all Palestinians — any land within Israel proper, the land belonging to the Jewish state, is off limits.

Jarrar can travel a convoluted route to Jordan, across a bridge designated for West Bankers, where she can catch a flight back to Canada.

Her parents are not permitted to leave the West Bank, because they have been declared a “security risk,” although the family has never been given the reason for this label that the Israeli state has declared part of his “secret files.”

The files contain classified information that has been used as an excuse to “break all of his ribs, and historically beat him,” Jarrar says.

Jarrar says one of the reasons given for an arrest was his presidency of his university’s student union.

“When you’re an occupying power, there’s a sense that students organizing can also be a way of agitating politically,” Sucharov says. “They feel they have to do everything in their power to protect their citizens.”

Jarrar has turned her hellish experiences into fuel for an activist machine.  

As a high school student, Jarrar was a part of her student union, gave public speeches, and appeared on radio shows to talk about her father’s torture.

In 2001, she represented Palestine at the Arab League of Nations in Egypt, where she gave a special presentation as a youth living under occupation. The same year she represented Palestine at the United Nations, where she spoke about education under occupation.

At Carleton, Jarrar is an active member of Students Against Israeli Apartheid, where she has thrown her support behind the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. The campaign calls for Carleton’s pension fund to stop investing in companies they say benefit from weapons manufacturing.

Jarrar says she thinks speaking to governments is not effective, that change comes from grassroots movements and bringing peoples’ voice together.

“Grassroots is what matters… I believe this is the way of getting the stories out,” Jarrar says.


  • i think this is a great article, but you said “Jerusalem, now part of Israel”. Unless she was born before 1967, which I highly doubt, Jerusalem has been a part of Israel her entire lifetime. My father was born in Jerusalem, and on his Canadian passport his hometown merely says “Jerusalem”, where as if you were born anywhere else in the world, the Canadian government lists your country as well (example: Paris, France). Obviously the debate over Jerusalem is heated, but that statement doesn’t seem quite accurate.

  • Yea, whether Jerusalem is “in Israel” is a question you’ll get a lot of different answers to. It is on the Israeli side of the separation barrier, but half of it – East Jerusalem – lies on the Palestinian side of the “Green line,” the internationally-recognized “border” between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. Many Palestinians live in Jerusalem, most of which are special “East Jerusalem residents,” they aren’t Israeli citizens but they are free to travel around Israel and in and out of the West Bank, unlike the majority of Palestinians who live in the West Bank.

  • The problem with that argument is that the Green Line was never an internationally recognized border. It was merely a ceasefire line that would serve until a peace treaty was signed between Israel and Jordan. The agreement said “The Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary, and is delineated without prejudice to rights, claims and positions of either Party to the Armistice as regards ultimate settlement of the Palestine question.” The fact that the holiest site in Judaism and many other historically sites are east of the “Green Line” makes it an unrealistic border to strive for.