Preempting Knesset vote, Arab MK forgoes immunity
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Preempting Knesset vote, Arab MK forgoes immunity

Basel Ghattas paves way for likely arrest over accusation he smuggled phones to Palestinian security prisoners

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

MK Basel Ghattas arrives at the Lahav 433 police investigation unit in Lod, December 20, 2016. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
MK Basel Ghattas arrives at the Lahav 433 police investigation unit in Lod, December 20, 2016. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Joint (Arab) List MK Basel Ghattas announced Thursday he would waive his parliamentary immunity, hours before a planned Knesset vote on removing it, paving the way for his arrest on suspicion of smuggling cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners jailed in Israel.

On Wednesday, 15 members of the Knesset House Committee voted in favor of removing his immunity after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said there was sufficient evidence to charge Ghattas for illegally taking the devices to the prisoners earlier this week.

A special plenary session had been called for 4 p.m. on Thursday — a day on which the plenum does not normally sit — for a final vote that would have officially removed Ghattas’s immunity.

Writing to the Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein before the vote, Ghattas said he would instead opt to remove the immunity on his own, according to the Law of Parliamentary Immunity.

MK David Bitan is taken out by security guards during a Knesset Committee meeting discussing the allegations against Joint (Arab) List MK Basel Ghattas, September 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
MK David Bitan is taken out by security guards during a Knesset Committee meeting discussing the allegations against Joint (Arab) List MK Basel Ghattas, September 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

“The committee debate was, as expected, confrontational, political and lacking depth, and I will not allow this incitement against me to continue,” Ghattas wrote.

Despite a heated debate in which several MKs were removed for disturbances, including coalition chair David Bitan, every present member of the committee voted for the motion with no abstentions or objections.

The two Joint List MKs on the committee, Ahmad Tibi and Osama Saadi, were not present for the debate. A statement from the party said the faction was boycotting the committee session as the results were a foregone conclusion.

“We decided not to participate in the Knesset meeting about the immunity of Basel Ghattas, as it is an inciting and grandstanding meeting, a field tribunal, whose results are known in advance,” the statement read.

Ghattas was questioned Tuesday by investigators from Lahav 433, the national serious crimes unit of the Israel Police, over allegations he handed miniature cellphones and secret notes to the two Palestinians during a visit to Ketziot Prison on Sunday. One of the prisoners, Walid Daka, is serving a 37-year sentence for the 1984 murder of an IDF soldier.

Joint (Arab) List member MK Basel Ghattas, center, arrives at the police Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod, December 20, 2016. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Joint (Arab) List member MK Basel Ghattas, center, arrives at the police Lahav 433 investigation unit in Lod, December 20, 2016. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Mandelblit sent an urgent letter to Edelstein, the Knesset speaker, on Wednesday morning, calling on the House Committee to vote on ending Ghattas’s immunity in order to advance the investigation against him.

In his letter, Mandelblit confirmed there was video footage of Ghattas handing over papers to Daka and giving four envelopes to a second inmate, Basel Ben Sulieman Bezre, who is serving a 15-year sentence for terror offenses.

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

Instead of a vote, the immunity will now officially be lifted by Edelstein in announcing Ghattas’s intention to the plenary this afternoon, a spokesman for the speaker said.

With Ghattas’s immunity lifted, he is likely to be arrested by police later Thursday.

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