MK Basel Ghattas, accused of exploiting his position to smuggle cellphones to convicted Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons, resigned from the Knesset Sunday as part of a plea deal that will see him face two years in prison.
Prosecutors on Friday filed an indictment in the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court against the Joint (Arab) List lawmaker, formally charging him with smuggling phones into prison, smuggling documents and breach of trust.
The charges came a day after Ghattas signed a deal with the state in which he will resign from the Knesset and serve two years. In return he avoided more serious charges of aiding the enemy and being an accomplice to terror.
Ghattas tendered his resignation in a short, formal letter to Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein signed only with his name, announcing the move in accordance with the Basic Law: Knesset.
A photo of the letter sent to journalists, however, included a handwritten Arabic message penned by Ghattas detailing his feelings on the move.
Speaking at a press conference in Nazareth Friday after the charges were filed, Ghattas said he had been 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 revoked.”
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.
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’s resignation puts an end to efforts by lawmakers to oust him from the parliament by using the MK Impeachment Law. The newly passed legislation allows for MKs to expel a colleague for “supporting a terror group’s armed struggle against the State of Israel.” The Knesset House Committee was due to vote Monday on sending the motion to the plenary for a final vote.
Writing on Facebook, Environmental Minister Ze’ev Elkin, who initiated the impeachment process, said the threat of expulsion propelled Ghattas to accept the plea bargain. “I promised and I fulfilled. Bassel Ghattas understood that if he had not reached a plea bargain and resigned on his own, we would have kicked him out,” he wrote. “Terror supporters have no place in the Knesset!”
Speaker Edelstein, sharing the letter on Twitter, wrote that “it was a shame it didn’t happen sooner.”
Ghattas was under criminal investigation after being 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.
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. When that ended, he was still barred from all parliamentary activities except for plenum votes.
The next candidate from the Joint (Arab) List will take his place in the Knesset. According to the Central Elections Committee, that is Juma Azbarga, a resident of the Bedouin town of Lakiya, near Beersheba in Israel’s south.