Knesset to Discuss Ghattas Phone Smuggling

Arab-Israeli MK Basel Ghattas seen in the Knesset. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Security officials announced Monday that they had last week seized cellphones that were being smuggled into Ketziot prison in southern Israel, where many security prisoners are held. Acting on intelligence gathered from sources, the officials discovered parts of eight phones that were scattered about the visitors’ room, hidden in various spaces in the frame of the window that separates prisoners from visitors. Officials said that the phones were meant for Islamic Jihad terrorists.

The officials did not say if the latest security breach was connected to the alleged activities of MK Bassam Ghattas (United Arab List), who according to a news report is being investigated for carrying phones into prisons and giving them to Hamas terrorists detained in Ketziot prison

Meanwhile, the Knesset Control Committee was set to meet Monday to discuss what, if anything, to do about Ghattas. Voices calling for Ghattas to be thrown out of the Knesset were loudly sounded Monday, with Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin circulating a petition among MKs to remove Ghattas from the Knesset. The law, Elkin said, is clear, and any Knesset member who helps terrorists is in violation of commitments not to do that are taken when they are sworn into the Knesset.

The committee will also discuss the propriety of MKs visiting terrorists in prison, and whether or not the practice should be ended altogether.

Elkin was seeking to build Knesset support for enacting the Dismissal Law, which was passed last year in the wake of security issues involving United Arab List MK Hanin Zoabi. Under the law, a Knesset member can be thrown out of the plenum if 90 MKs vote to do so. In order to raise the issue, the petition needs the signatures of 70 MKs.

Ministers and MKs on the right were unified in condemning Ghattas for, according to a report on Channel Two, smuggling at least 15 cellphones into the prison on behalf of Hamas terrorists, at least one of whom is serving several life sentences for murder. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said that Ghattas, along with other Balad MKs, “have for years crossed all red lines and expressed support for Israel’s enemies. They encourage and support terror, and call for boycotts of Israel.”

Transport Minister Yisrael Katz said that the “suspicions regarding Ghattas’s activities, in the ‘tradition’ of the activities of Zoabi and Azmi Bishara, who spied for Hezbollah, shows how mistaken the High Court was to deny the Knesset the right to legislate a version of the Dismissal Bill that would have enable us to act much more quickly and easily.”

Deputy Minister Ayoub Kara said that “Ghattas’s crimes require a revision of the rights and obligations of MKs. Cooperating with and helping terrorists can be defined in only one way – an attempt to harm Israel’s security.”

On the left, Meretz head Zehava Gal-on said that while Ghattas’s actions were “very serious and dangerous,” it was up to police and the courts to develop a case and try the MK – not the Knesset. MKs and ministers calling for Ghattas’s head “are taking advantage of an opportunity to attack the Arab public and incite against them. Last week they blamed the Arabs for all the forest fires in the north, and now they are accusing them collectively of security offenses.”

Ghattas himself said in a statement that the accusations against him “are another example of political persecution against a leader of the Arab sector and our political activity. The police continue to try and break the spirit of my party Balad. Police asked me to come in for questioning but that meeting has not yet taken place. Visits by MKs to security prisoners are done with the full cooperation of the Prisons Service and with the blessing of the Defense Ministry. I have nothing to hide, and I will continue to represent the Arab public with legitimate political activity.

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