Knesset Panel Votes to Lift Arab MK’s Immunity

YERUSHALAYIM -
Joint Arab List MK Basel Ghattas arrives at the Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod, Wednesday. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The Knesset House Committee voted 15-0 Wednesday to remove MK Basel Ghattas’ immunity, as police continue to investigate allegations that he smuggled 12 cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails.

The full Knesset is set to vote on the matter on Thursday.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had asked that Ghattas’ immunity be lifted in order to allow the police full rein to investigate.

In his letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Mandelblit confirmed there was video footage of Ghattas handing over papers to one prisoner — Walid Daka — and giving four envelopes to a second inmate, Basel Ben Sulieman Bezre, who is serving a 15-year sentence for terror offenses, The Times of Israel reported.

When the meetings concluded, prison officials searched and found 12 cellphones, 16 SIM cards, two phone batteries and a headphone in the envelopes, the attorney general said. The papers given to Daka were also seized and submitted for translation, he said.

During Ghattas’ interrogation on Tuesday, the Arab lawmaker initially denied all the allegations against him, Mandelblit said. But when presented with the video evidence, he admitted to giving the envelopes to the prisoner, while insisting he had no idea what the envelopes contained. Ghattas also confessed to giving Daka papers in violation of prison rules, but maintained the documents contained only “political content” related to the Balad party.

If convicted Ghattas faces 10 years in prison.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said in a statement that “if these suspicions against MK Ghattas are true, then this constitutes a serious offense against the security of the state and citizens of Israel. Whoever harms state security will be severely punished and will not be allowed to serve in the Knesset.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also commented on the allegations, saying, “Just more proof that the Joint List [which includes Ghattas’ Balad party] is a list of spies and traitors. From Azmi Bishara to Basel Ghattas to the Marmara representative Hanin Zoabi and the rest of their friends — we will continue to act so that not only are they no longer part of the Knesset, but so they are not citizens of the State of Israel.”

Ghattas has made headlines in the past for joining a Gaza-bound flotilla from Sweden and, more recently, for inflammatory comments made after Shimon Peres’ death. “Let us remember in his death his true essence as a tyrant,” Ghattas said. “He was directly responsible for various atrocities and war crimes which he committed against us. … He is completely covered with our blood.”

MK Avi Dichter (Likud), chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and a former head of the Shin Bet, said that “Ghattas must not set foot in the Knesset. He’s likely to smuggle in weapons that could bring harm to elected officials.

“Ghattas is a real risk,” Dichter insisted. “Members of Knesset enjoy immunity not only when they visit terrorists in prisons, but also when they enter the Knesset with no inspection. Mobile phones are not just tools of speech, but can also be weapons that terrorists can use in their attacks.”