Ben Gvir scrapping rule allowing any lawmaker to visit security prisoners

New national security minister says ‘time to stop the parade of treats for terrorists,’ will revert to protocol allowing only one MK from each faction to see terror inmates

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on January 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir announced Sunday that he plans to cancel regulations that allow any lawmaker to meet with terror inmates, or so-called security prisoners.

In a statement, Ben Gvir said he had informed Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana that he intends to return to an older protocol, according to which only one lawmaker from each faction will be allowed to visit security prisoners.

Those visits would be held under “appropriate supervision.”

“I believe that meetings between Knesset lawmakers and security prisoners can give those prisoners a boost, which may lead to incitement and the promotion of terrorist propaganda,” the far-right lawmaker charged, without providing evidence or examples.

“It’s time to stop the parade of treats for terrorists,” said the newly appointed minister now in charge of police and the prison service.

Ben Gvir has himself several convictions for supporting a Jewish terror group and for incitement to racism. As an attorney, Ben Gvir represented multiple Jewish terror suspects.

Last week, Ben Gvir visited the recently renovated high-security Nafha Prison to review holding conditions for Palestinian prisoners jailed for security offenses and to check that they had not been improved.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (center) listens to Israel Prison Service chief Katy Perry (left) during a visit to Nafha Prison, January 6, 2023 (Israel Prison Service)

The rule only allowing one lawmaker per party to visit security prisoners was initially adopted after then-Joint List MK Basel Ghattas was caught smuggling contraband to Palestinian terrorists in an Israeli jail.

Ghattas was convicted in April 2017 and jailed for approximately two years for exploiting his position to smuggle cellphones and notes to to the convicts. Police said that the MK took advantage of his position as a member of Knesset, who cannot be subjected to a body search.

Then-public security minister Omer Barlev, whose ministry was the precursor to Ben Gvir’s, and Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, changed the rules protocols under the previous coalition to allow all lawmakers to visit security prisoners. Ben Gvir said the decision went against the opinion of the Shin Bet, though there was no statement from the security service on the matter.

Lawmakers have used visits to security prisoners as a way to draw attention to hunger-striking detainees, particularly those under administrative detention without charges.

Administrative detention is considered an extreme tool under international law, but Israel makes extensive use of it against Palestinians, as well as some Jewish Israelis, occasionally holding them for years without charges or a trial. Israeli security officials have defended the measure as a necessary tool to combat terrorist activity.

In 2021, MK Ayman Odeh, now leader of the Hadash-Ta’al alliance, and Ben Gvir physically clashed inside a hospital in central Israel. Odeh was at the medical facility to see Miqdad Qawasmeh, a Hamas terror group member being held without charge who had been on a hunger strike, while Ben Gvir was said to have come to complain that Qawasmeh was being treated in an Israeli hospital.

As aides and hospital staff crowded around the two and Ben Gvir pressed forward toward Qawasmeh’s room, Odeh shoved him back. Ben Gvir then lunged toward Odeh, but staff stepped in to separate the pair.

File: Parliamentarians from the largely Arab Joint List bloc gather in Palestinian security detainee Maher al-Akhras’ room at Kaplan hospital on November 6, 2020, to wish him well on the end of his hunger strike (Joint List spokesperson)

Ben Gvir’s announcement came a day after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he was revoking the entry permits to Israel of three senior Palestinian Authority officials, after the trio paid a visit to a newly released prisoner who served decades in jail for murdering a soldier.

Karim Younis, the longest-serving prisoner jailed for security-related offenses, was freed from prison Thursday after serving 40 years behind bars following his conviction on terrorism charges for murdering an Israeli soldier in 1980.

The three members of the PA’s ruling Fatah party — Mahmoud al-Aloul, Azzam al-Ahmad, and Rawhi Fattouh — visited Younis, entering Israel with their valid permits given to senior Palestinian officials. Former Hadash MK Mohammad Barakeh, who directs the National Arab Higher Follow-Up Committee, was also spotted at the gathering.

Gallant’s decision was made following an assessment he held with the Shin Bet security agency and other officials, according to the ministry.

In addition, right-wing lawmakers are working on a bill to annul the citizenship of convicted terrorists. It is set to be reviewed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has asked Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to allow the bill to proceed through the Knesset.

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