Arab MK signs plea bargain, agrees to go to jail
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Arab MK signs plea bargain, agrees to go to jail

Basel Ghattas, accused of smuggling phones to terrorists, says acts were driven by ‘conscience and humanitarian feelings‘

Joint (Arab) List member Basel Ghattas is brought to court for a remand on his arrest at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, December 27, 2016. (Yair Sagi/POOL)
Joint (Arab) List member Basel Ghattas is brought to court for a remand on his arrest at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court, December 27, 2016. (Yair Sagi/POOL)

An Arab lawmaker accused of exploiting his position to smuggle cellphones and notes to convicted Palestinian terrorists signed a plea deal Thursday with prosecutors in which he will resign from the Knesset and serve two years in jail.

According to the deal, MK Basel Ghattas, of the Joint (Arab) List’s Balad faction, will admit in court early next week to charges including smuggling phones into prison, smuggling documents and breach of trust.

Lawyers for both sides will request a jail term of two years and the prosecution will ask that Ghattas be fined.

The court will be left to decide on the length of an additional, suspended sentence, according to a statement from the Attorney General’s office.

Security camera footage showing MK Basel Ghattas, right, handing an envelope to an inmate in Israeli prison. (Screen capture: Channel 10)
Security camera footage showing MK Basel Ghattas, right, handing an envelope to an inmate in Israeli prison. (Screen capture: Channel 10)

Prosecutors will also ask for the offences to be branded moral turpitude which, under Israeli law, triggers a ban from public office for seven years.

In a statement, Ghattas said everything he did was driven by personal reasons of conscience and humanitarian feelings toward the prisoners and that he accepted full responsibility for his actions.

He added that the deal provided for a different indictment to the one presented to the Knesset and would not include clauses relating to harming state security or Israeli citizens, or to terror.

Ghattas has been under a criminal investigation after he was caught on prison surveillance video passing envelopes to Palestinian security prisoners in January.

Police said that the MK exploited his position as a member of Knesset — who cannot be subjected to a body search — during a visit to Ketziot Prison in southern Israel last year, where he met with Walid Daka, a Palestinian prisoner serving a 37-year sentence for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam. The MK also met with Basel Ben Sulieman Bezre, who is serving a 15-year sentence on a terror conviction.

Arab MK Basel Ghattas attends a remand hearing at Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on December 23, 2016, a day after he was arrested for allegedly passing cell phones to convicted terrorists jailed in Israel. (AFP/Jack Guez)
Arab MK Basel Ghattas attends a remand hearing at Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on December 23, 2016, a day after he was arrested for allegedly passing cell phones to convicted terrorists jailed in Israel. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Ghattas consistently denied the allegations against him, but had to contend with video footage that appeared to show him smuggling the cellphones into the prison.

He was released to house arrest in January, five days after he was arrested. Although no longer under house arrest, he has been barred from all parliamentary activities except for plenum votes.

Once Ghattas resigns, the next candidate from the Joint List will take his place. According to the Central Elections Committee, that would be Juma Azbarga, a resident of the Bedouin town of Lakiya, near Beersheba in Israel’s south.

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