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'You are a terrorist and garbage. You are sick in the head'

Far-right and Arab MKs scuffle during visit to hunger-striking terror suspect

Religious Zionism’s Itamar Ben Gvir and Joint List chief Ayman Odeh clash outside hospital ward where Hamas member Miqdad Qawasmeh is being treated

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Screen capture from video of an altercation between leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir (center-left) and MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the predimonantly Arab-Israeli Joint List party, at the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, October 19, 2021. (Twitter)
Screen capture from video of an altercation between leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party MK Itamar Ben Gvir (center-left) and MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the predimonantly Arab-Israeli Joint List party, at the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot, October 19, 2021. (Twitter)

MK Ayman Odeh, leader of the predominantly Arab Israeli Joint List party, physically clashed on Tuesday with MK Itamar Ben Gvir, a member of the hard-right Religious Zionism party, inside a hospital in central Israel.

Odeh went to Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot to see Miqdad Qawasmeh, a Hamas terror group member being held without charge who has been on a hunger strike for nearly three months. Odeh was said to be visiting Qawasmeh to offer his support, while Ben Gvir was said to have come to complain that Qawasmeh was being treated in an Israeli hospital.

Qawasmeh, the son of Hamas legislator Omar Qawasmeh, has been detained in Israel for several months. He is being held under a controversial legal procedure known as administrative detention, which allows Israeli authorities to hold prisoners without charges. A Shin Bet spokesperson said Qawasmeh was being detained due to “Hamas activity,” and declined to elaborate further.

Odeh and other Joint List MKs oppose administrative detention, and have frequently protested its use against Palestinians.

Odeh also visited Qawasmeh on Saturday, alongside his father, the Hamas commander. “His father is at his side, looking at him with a father’s worry and torn up with pain. The occupation, which placed him in administrative detention without a trial, stays rigid and doesn’t bat an eyelash,” Odeh said in a statement.

Video of the Tuesday confrontation shows Odeh exiting Qawasmeh’s ward and encountering Ben Gvir — who was demanding to be let in. Odeh told Ben Gvir that he would not be permitted to enter the room. Ben Gvir responded that Odeh is not a hospital official and therefore had no say in the matter.

“You are terror and a terrorist — you came here to give support to terrorists,” Ben Gvir accused Odeh as their stand-off became heated.

“Go away, this is our home,” Ben Gvir retorted. “What are you doing here? What are you and your friends doing here? You are supporting terror.”

“Go away,” Odeh shouted back. “You are disturbing the hospital. Get out of here. You are a terrorist and garbage. You are sick in the head.”

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.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir shouts at Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a plenum session in the Knesset plenum on October 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben Gvir later filed a police complaint against Odeh for alleged assault and disorderly conduct.

“Odeh committed a serious criminal act,” Ben Gvir said. “A parliamentarian doesn’t have immunity to attack another parliamentarian.”

Ben Gvir said he had asked the hospital director for access to Qawashmeh’s room to review the conditions under which he was being kept.

“In the end, despite Odeh’s behavior, I entered the ward and I got the impression that Israel continues to be a paradise for terrorists,” he said.

Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy of the Yesh Atid party backed up Ben Gvir on the matter, saying in a statement that he “condemns the violence that Odeh used against Ben Gvir. For an MK to raise his hand against another MK is crossing all red lines.”

Joint List MK Ayman Odeh at a protest in Tel Aviv on May 15, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Several other Palestinian security prisoners are currently on hunger strikes. The International Committee for the Red Cross has expressed specific concerns over the welfare of Qawasmeh and Kayed Fasfous, who has refused to accept food for more than 90 days.

“We are concerned about potentially irreversible consequences of such prolonged hunger strike to their health and life,” said ICRC official Robert Paterson in early October.

Last week, two Arab nurses at the Kaplan hospital were disciplined after posing for a video with Qawasmeh. The nurses were summoned for a disciplinary hearing in the hospital and were censured over the incident. The hospital said the nurses understood the severity of their actions and expressed regret.

Israeli authorities had not placed Qawasmeh under guard due to his weakened condition. Late Tuesday night, Qawasmeh was moved into intensive care, and hospital officials said his life was in danger due to his more than 80-day hunger strike.

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