Court extends detention of MK suspected of security offenses
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Court extends detention of MK suspected of security offenses

After saying there was a major development, judges give cops until midday Tuesday to question Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas

Joint List MK Basel Ghattas appears at Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court  for a remand hearing on December 26, 2016, following his arrest on suspicion of smuggling cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners. (Photo by Meged Guzani/POOL)
Joint List MK Basel Ghattas appears at Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court for a remand hearing on December 26, 2016, following his arrest on suspicion of smuggling cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners. (Photo by Meged Guzani/POOL)

An Israeli court agreed to a police request to remand MK Basel Ghattas in custody for another day, citing major developments in the case.

Following a Sunday night search of Ghattas’s home and his Knesset office, cops appealed to Rishon Lezion Magistrates Court on Monday to extend his detention by four days. The judges gave them until midday Tuesday.

The legislator is accused of smuggling phones and information to security prisoners.

Ghattas said, “I still have hope that the courts are an island of sanity and common sense.” However, he challenged his detention, asking the court whether there was any need for him to have been in custody for the past four days without being asked a single question. He asked why, as a Christian, he had to spend Christmas in prison. He also asked whether police would have treated him differently if he weren’t an Arab.

Both police and the judge presiding over the remand hearing revealed that there were major developments in the case, but so far no details of those developments have emerged.

As he entered court, Ghattas told reporters that he had no comment, but after his release he would have plenty to say. Asked whether his arrest was politically motivated, as some of his party members claimed, Ghattas smiled but did not reply.

Police said that Ghattas refused to tell them who gave him the smuggled phones, Haaretz reported. However, the MK’s lawyers claimed that the cops already know who gave him the packages to deliver to the inmates.

According to Ghattas’s version of events, he had known Walid Daka, one of the prisoners to whom he allegedly gave the contraband, for many years. Reportedly Ghattas admitted that Daka asked him to bring him books from a third party, which he did. The MK said he was unaware of the contents of the package, which he assumed to be books.

Police also claimed that Ghattas refused to have a face-to-face confrontation with the prisoners he met. However, Ghattas told the court that he was willing to confront them but not if that would incriminate them.

Ghattas, from the Balad party, which is part of the Joint (Arab) List, was arrested on Friday after waiving his parliamentary immunity amid accusations that he gave the cellphones, along with SIM cards and coded messages to Palestinian terrorists jailed in Israel.

Ghattas is alleged to have met with Daka during a Sunday visit to Ketziot Prison, south of Beersheba. Daka is serving a 37-year sentence for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam. The MK also allegedly met with Basel Ben Sulieman Bezre, who is serving a 15-year sentence for terror offenses.

Dozens of activists from the Balad party, including fellow MKs Hanin Zoabi and Jamal Zahalka, protested outside the court, holding signs that read, “Free Ghattas – Put an end to political persecution.”

Zahalka called the detention redundant and unfair, given that Ghattas has pledged to come voluntarily for questioning whenever he is called.

Zoabi said that “anyone who cares about justice, equality and Palestinians’ rights must protest against this political persecution.” She singled out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of pursuing an anti-Arab agenda.

Police reportedly arrested him over concerns he might flee the country, like Balad founder Azmi Bishara, who fled Israel in 2007 to escape a police and Shin Bet investigation into allegations he was paid by Hezbollah to help locate targets for rocket attacks within Israel.

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