An Israeli Arab lawmakers has admitted to smuggling coded information and miniature cell phones to Palestinian Authority Arab prisoners held on security offenses in an Israeli prison.
Balad Knesset Member Basel Ghattas of the Joint Arab List faction admitted under questioning by the Israel Police special investigative Lahav 433 unit on Tuesday to giving cell phones to incarcerated Arab terrorists in an Israeli prison.
Ghattas is accused of smuggling miniature phones and coded intelligence information to Palestinian Authority Arab prisoners convicted for carrying out terrorist attacks who are incarcerated at Ketziot Prison, south of Be’er Sheva.
First reported by Israel’s Channel 2 television news, the admission by Ghattas came after police showed the lawmaker video footage of him actually delivering the messages and the phones during a visit Sunday with two inmates who are members of the Palestinian Authority’s leading Fatah faction. One of the two is serving a 37-year sentence for murder.
When the accusations were initially made by police, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Tuesday proposed a measure – recommended to him by the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency – to ban Knesset members altogether from visiting security prisoners. The bill was immediately approved Tuesday by the Knesset House Committee. The ban applies to prisoners held on security offenses, be they citizens of Israel or the Palestinian Authority, Jewish, Christian or Muslim. Ghattas told journalists following questioning with police that the “prisoners issue” was “unbearably painful.” He characterized his visits to the jailed terrorists as “humanitarian and moral activism.”
The lawmaker said the prisoners, all of whom are convicted terrorists are “suffering under difficult conditions, and this issue is part of my public and parliamentary work, which I am carrying out responsibly. I have nothing to hide. We are entering and leaving these interrogations with our heads held high,” he added, saying, “In the end it will turn out they have made a mountain out of a molehill.”
But Erdan doesn’t see it that way. In an interview with Israel Army Radio, he pointed out that Ghattas has honored murderers in the past. “This is a member of Knesset who just three-four months ago held a moment of silence in memory of murderers in the recent terror wave in Jerusalem, who joins flotillas that identify with Gaza, who calls [late former President] Shimon Peres the ‘greatest of war criminals,’ who sneaks onto the Temple Mount just to provoke. It won’t be such a disaster if he isn’t in the Knesset — even if he isn’t convicted.”
Meanwhile, Israel Police said Monday that they have instructed officials at all Israeli border crossings to prevent Ghattas from leaving the country – as a previous member of his political party did to escape justice. (Former Balad Knesset Member Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel in 2007 after being accused of aiding Hezbollah terrorists, formally turned in his resignation from the parliament of the Jewish State and the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.)
The move to block Ghattas from fleeing followed a debate on the suspicions into the lawmaker’s behavior at the Knesset Committee, chaired Knesset Member Yoav Kish (Likud.) Kish said Ghattas belongs in jail, not the Knesset.
Kish’s party faction colleague, MK Ze’ev Elkin, said he has started gathering signatures to remove Ghattas from the Knesset under the terms of a new law that gives Knesset Members the right to vote a legislator out of office for incitement to racism, or for supporting armed conflict against the State of Israel.
“We are starting to gather signatures in order to put an end to the phenomenon of MKs supporting terrorism,” Elkin wrote on Twitter. “Let’s put an end to MKs using their parliamentary immunity for aiding terrorists.”
The measure became law last July. It requires the support of at least 90 MKs, 10 of whom are members of the Opposition, to expel a Knesset Member.
MK Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) said, “The news about MK Ghattas is extremely serious. If it becomes clear that he is guilty of the crimes he is accused of, he must be brought to justice. It is inconceivable that an MK will commit subterfuge against the State of Israel and its citizens.”
Andrew Friedman and TPS contributed content to this report.