Videos appear to show MK receiving, delivering packages to prisoners

Basel Ghattas insists he did not commit security crime despite footage apparently showing planned smuggling

Footage appearing to show MK Basel Ghattas handing over a package to Palestinian prisoner Walid Daka (Screen capture: Channel 2)
Footage appearing to show MK Basel Ghattas handing over a package to Palestinian prisoner Walid Daka (Screen capture: Channel 2)

Police released footage on Monday which appears to show Joint (Arab) List MK Basel Ghattas both receiving a number of contraband cellphones to pass on to a Palestinian prisoner and delivering them.

They also released a recording of part of an interrogation in which Ghattas continues to deny the accusations against him even after being shown the videos, Channel 2 reported Monday.

According to suspicions, Ghattas exploited his position as a member of Knesset, who is not subject to a body search, during a visit to Ketziot prison where he met with Walid Daka, a Palestinian prisoner serving a 37-year sentence for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam. The MK also met with Basel Ben Sulieman Bezre, who is serving a 15-year sentence on a terror conviction.

The Knesset member has not been formally charged, though the Attorney General’s Office announced in early January that an indictment was being drafted.

Police claim that, ahead of the visit, Ghattas planned with Daka’s 65-year-old brother, Assad, to hand over cellphones to Bezre who was to then pass them on to the incarcerated Daka and other prisoners. Assad Daka allegedly met with Ghattas at a gas station where he handed over four envelopes containing a dozen phones, SIM cards and chargers.

Police obtained closed circuit video of the meeting between the two at a gas station in the Arab town of Baqa al-Gharbiyye, in the northern Israel.

In the recording broadcast Monday, the interrogator asked Ghattas to confirm that he had coordinated with Walid Daka in advance in a phone conversation to deliver the cellphones. Ghattas denied the accusation. The interrogator then told the MK that Daka had already admitted that Ghattas knew in advance that he was bringing cellphones to the prison, to which Ghattas said: “that is completely false.”

Ghattas then told the interrogator that if there were so smart as to be able to eavesdrop on phone conversations within the prison, he would ask for the recording, threatening to go to the courts in order to hear the recordings which he claimed would prove his version of events.

The MK also told police that “instead of laying a trap for a Knesset member, in any proper country in the world they would have warned the parliamentarian about such a thing.”

At this point, police showed Ghattas the video in which he is clearly seen meeting with Daka. In the video, Ghattas appears to check that the prison officer left the room, making sure the coast is clear, and then hands over the package. First the cellphones and then some papers, both wrapped in envelopes.

Ghattas then appeared to change his tune somewhat.

“If I had any idea at all that this [package contained] as you claim, 12 phones, even five or six, I would never have done it,” said Ghattas, adding that he was set up.

“If everything you say was in the packages that I handed over then someone actually set a trap for me… and basically betrayed me,” he said.

Joint Arab List member Basel Ghattas arrives for a court hearing at the Lod Magistrate's Court, January 8, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)
Joint Arab List member Basel Ghattas arrives for a court hearing at the Lod Magistrate’s Court, January 8, 2017. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The MK was asked who he believes set him up, but he refused to answer.

The purported purpose of Ghattas’s visit to Ketziot Prison, south of Beersheba was to hear complaints about prison conditions, the MK has claimed. He hid the envelopes inside his clothing and when a metal detector at the entrance to the prison beeped, Ghattas claimed it was because of his belt buckle, police say.

In response to the Channel 2 report, Ghattas insisted he was innocent and claimed there was an orchestrated media campaign against him.

“The tendentious, distorted report today only strengthens my position and my version with regard to the false charge that I passed telephones [to prisoners],” he said. “The police continue to work hand in hand with the media to sully my name and to present a security case in which I committed serious crimes.

“I repeat and stress that I only gave humanitarian pamphlets. I did not hand over phones and did not commit any security crime or with the intent to harm civilians. I will continue to insist on my rights even against attempts by enforcement agencies to trample them through publicizing things like this,” he said in a statement.

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