Charges filed against Arab MK accused of smuggling phones to prisoners
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Charges filed against Arab MK accused of smuggling phones to prisoners

Basel Ghattas set to go to prison for two years under plea deal, says treated unfairly as an Arab lawmaker

Joint List MK Basel Ghattas arrives for a court hearing at the Rehovot Magistrate's Court, January 5, 2017. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)
Joint List MK Basel Ghattas arrives for a court hearing at the Rehovot Magistrate's Court, January 5, 2017. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

Prosecutors on Friday filed charges in the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court against an Arab lawmaker accused of exploiting his position to smuggle cellphones and notes to convicted Palestinian terrorists.

MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List’s Balad faction was charged with smuggling phones into prison, smuggling documents and breach of trust.

The charges come a day after Ghattas signed a plea deal with state in which he will resign from the Knesset and serve two years in jail. In return he avoided the more serious charges of aiding the enemy and being an accomplice to terror.

He is expected to resign Sunday.

Speaking at a press conference in Nazareth after the charges were filed, Ghattas said he was unfairly persecuted because he was an Arab lawmaker.

Israeli authorities “crossed a series of red lines because I am an Arab MK,” Ghattas said. “You all know that there have been investigations against other lawmakers, ministers and prime ministers, the president and senior army officers who were suspected of far more serious crimes and none of them was arrested or had their (parliamentary) immunity removed.”

Ghattas said everything he did was driven by personal reasons of conscience and humanitarian feelings toward the prisoners, adding that he had decided to take the deal after “examining all his options.”

Under the plea, 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 offenses to be branded moral turpitude which, under Israeli law, triggers a ban from public office for seven years.

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, left, 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 (Arab) 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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