MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint (Arab) List faction admitted Tuesday he smuggled cellphones and coded messages to terror convicts in an Israeli prison, but insisted his actions amounted to “humanitarian and moral activism.”
“The prisoners issue is unbearably painful. My visits to the prisoners are part of my humanitarian and moral activism,” he said shortly after a three-hour police questioning at the national serious crimes unit of the Israel Police in Lod.
“The prisoners are suffering under difficult conditions, and dealing with this issue is part of my public and parliamentary work, which I am carrying out responsibly. I have nothing to hide. We are entering and leaving these interrogations with our heads held high,” he said.
After the allegations against Ghattas surfaced on Sunday, lawmakers on Tuesday issued a blanket ban on Knesset members visiting prisoners serving time for terrorism and other security crimes. The vote to institute the ban took place at a Knesset House Committee meeting dealing with the suspicions that Ghattas, of the Arab Joint List faction, smuggled miniature phones and coded intelligence information to two Palestinian prisoners serving time for terror acts at Ketziot Prison south of Beersheba.
His admission, first reported by Channel 2 on Tuesday evening, came after police reportedly showed Ghattas video footage of him delivering the phones and messages during a visit Sunday with two Palestinian security prisoners. Both of the prisoners are members of Fatah. One of them is Walid Daka, who was sentenced to 37 years for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam.
The Shin Bet security service recommended the ban on MK visits, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told the Knesset House Committee Tuesday.
Erdan said he had spoken to Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman and “as far as he is concerned, a blanket ban on all meetings between MKs and security prisoners should be instituted,” the minister informed the committee.
The ban could only come from the Knesset itself as lawmakers enjoy parliamentary immunity from such restrictions by ordinary law enforcement bodies.
The ban applies to all prisoners held on security offenses, whether Palestinian or Israeli.
Some coalition lawmakers have demanded that Ghattas, an MK from the Balad party, part of the Joint List faction, be stripped of the immunity he enjoys as a member of Knesset and put on trial.
Asked about the case in a Tuesday interview on Army Radio, Erdan denounced Ghattas. “This is a member of Knesset who just three-four months ago held a moment of silence in memory of murderers in the recent terror wave in Jerusalem, who joins flotillas that identify with Gaza, who calls [former president] Shimon Peres the greatest of war criminals, who sneaks onto the Temple Mount just to provoke. It won’t be such a disaster if he isn’t in the Knesset — even if he isn’t convicted [in the current case],” the minister said.
Earlier Tuesday, as he entered the headquarters of the Lahav 433 police unit in Lod, Ghattas told reporters, “I will come out with my head held high, and in the end it will turn out that they made a mountain out of a molehill.”
Calling the accusations “a political witch hunt,” he added, “We have become accustomed to questioning like this — it is all just to harm our struggle [for the Palestinian cause].”