A bill proposed by a former Jerusalem police chief-turned-MK would deny a state salary to lawmakers who are under indictment for terrorism or treason offenses.
Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy, the former head of the Jerusalem police, proposed the bill in a bid to deny a Knesset salary to Arab Joint List MK Basel Ghattas, who is being investigated for smuggling cellphones to prisoners convicted of terrorism in an Israeli prison in the country’s south.
“Israeli citizens don’t have to pay money to an MK who betrayed them,” Levy told Army Radio Wednesday morning.
Police released footage last month that appeared to show Ghattas both receiving a number of contraband cellphones to pass on to a Palestinian prisoner and delivering them to the prisoner.
They also released a recording of part of an interrogation in which Ghattas continued to deny the accusations against him even after being shown the videos, Channel 2 reported Monday.
According to suspicions, Ghattas exploited his position as a member of Knesset, who cannot be subjected to a body search, during a visit to Ketziot prison 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.
The Knesset member has not been formally charged, though the Attorney General’s Office announced in early January that an indictment was being drafted.
Ghattas will face a hearing with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Attorney Shai Nitzan Wednesday to discuss the ongoing investigation.
Levy, together with fellow Yesh Atid MK Yaakov Peri, a former head of the Shin Bet, appealed to the Knesset Ethics Committee when the suspicions against Ghattas first became public, asking that the committee freeze the lawmaker’s salary for the duration of the proceedings against him. Arab Joint List MK Youssef Jabareen prevented the move by voting against the measure, arguing Ghattas deserved his day in court before sanctions were applied against him by the Knesset. A unanimous vote is required to strip an MK of his or her salary.
The committee nevertheless voted to remove the MK from the Knesset, except during plenum votes, for six months.
The new bill proposed by Levy seeks to sidestep the Ethics Committee. Its current draft, which will be discussed by cabinet ministers in the coming days and may win coalition support in the Knesset by next week, would deny a state salary to an MK indicted on terror or treason offenses for one year, or until the attorney general informs the Knesset speaker that the MK is no longer a suspect.
Ghattas has consistently denied the allegations against him, but has had to contend with video footage that appears to show him smuggling the cellphones into the prison.
In January, police claimed that, ahead of the visit, Ghattas planned with Daka’s 65-year-old brother Assad to hand over cellphones to Bezre who was to then pass them on to the incarcerated Daka and other prisoners. Assad Daka allegedly met with Ghattas at a gas station where he handed over four envelopes containing a dozen phones, SIM cards and chargers.
Police obtained closed circuit video of the meeting between the two at a gas station in the Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, in northern Israel.
In the recording broadcast Monday, the interrogator asked Ghattas to confirm that he had coordinated with Walid Daka in advance in a phone conversation to deliver the cellphones. Ghattas denied the accusation. The interrogator then told the MK that Daka had already admitted that Ghattas knew in advance that he was bringing cellphones to the prison, to which Ghattas said: “That is completely false.”
— חדשות 2 (@Channel2News) January 23, 2017
Ghattas then told the interrogator that if there were so smart as to be able to eavesdrop on phone conversations within the prison, he would ask for the recording, threatening to go to the courts in order to hear the recordings which he claimed would prove his version of events.
The MK also told police that “instead of laying a trap for a Knesset member, in any proper country in the world they would have warned the parliamentarian about such a thing.”
At this point, police showed Ghattas the video in which he is clearly seen meeting with Daka. In the video, Ghattas appears to check that the prison officer left the room, making sure the coast is clear, and then hands over the package. First the cellphones and then some papers, both wrapped in envelopes.
Ghattas then appeared to change his tune somewhat.
“If I had any idea at all that this [package contained] as you claim, 12 phones, even five or six, I would never have done it,” said Ghattas, adding that he was set up.
“If everything you say was in the packages that I handed over then someone actually set a trap for me… and basically betrayed me,” he said.
The MK was asked who he believes set him up, but he refused to answer.
The purpose of Ghattas’s visit to Ketziot Prison, south of Beersheba was to hear complaints about prison conditions, the MK has claimed. He hid the envelopes inside his clothing and when a metal detector at the entrance to the prison beeped, Ghattas claimed it was because of his belt buckle, police say.
In response to the Channel 2 report, Ghattas insisted he was innocent and claimed there was an orchestrated media campaign against him.
“The tendentious, distorted report today only strengthens my position and my version with regard to the false charge that I passed telephones [to prisoners],” he said. “The police continue to work hand in hand with the media to sully my name and to present a security case in which I committed serious crimes.
“I repeat and stress that I only gave humanitarian pamphlets. I did not hand over phones and did not commit any security crime or with the intent to harm civilians. I will continue to insist on my rights even against attempts by enforcement agencies to trample them through publicizing things like this,” he said in a statement.