Knesset member Jamal Zahalka of the Joint (Arab) List called terrorists who killed Israelis “victims of the occupation” on Friday, defending his meeting with their families along with MKs Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas earlier in the week. Ghattas, for his part, described them as “martyrs.”
The meeting, at which the relatives asked the MKs to help them pressure the government to release the terrorists’ bodies for burial, has drawn condemnation from across the Israeli political spectrum.
Zahalka told Channel 2 news that the visit had been misrepresented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Thursday said “Members of Knesset who go to comfort the families of terrorists who murdered Israelis do not deserve to be in the Israeli Knesset.”
The MKs met with the father of Baha Alian, a Palestinian who was part of a two-man team that killed Israelis Haim Haviv, Alon Govberg and Richard Lakin in Jerusalem in October, and with relatives of other terrorists.
Zahalka claimed the visit was not a show of support for the families. He said that he and the other MKs condemned the violence committed by the dead assailants. “We went to hear from the families about the issues of transferring the bodies. That’s it. There was nothing else in this visit.”
Asked why the MKs had observed a minute of silence at the meeting on Tuesday in memory of the dead killers, Zahalka said many meetings among Palestinians begin with a minute of silence “in memory of all Palestinian dead” and that the lawmakers were not honoring the terrorists themselves. “We stood in silence for a minute,” he said. He denied a report that the MKs had called the dead terrorists “martyrs.”
When pressed on how he would define Palestinians who had attacked and killed innocent Israeli civilians, Zahalka said that “they are victims of the occupation.”
In a Channel 10 interview, his colleague Ghattas said of the dead terrorists: “As a people, we consider them to be martyrs. You (Jewish Israelis) don’t deal with the root of the problem, which is the occupation.”
Earlier Friday, Zoabi wrote in Arabic on Facebook: “We are defending national and human dignity. It is our duty and our right. The real crime is holding onto bodies. It is our duty to do our utmost to get the bodies released.”
The lawmaker was referring to Israel’s policy of delaying the return of bodies of Palestinians killed while carrying out attacks on Israelis, in an effort to prevent their funerals from becoming a source of further incitement to violence.
Ghattas also took to Facebook on Friday to defend their actions, accusing Israel of “fascism,” Channel 2 reported.
“When the trumpets of fascism incite against us, it means that we are protecting human values,” he wrote. “We condemn the incitement against party members [as they] perform their duty to help families to return the bodies of their children, which the Israeli authorities hold contrary to international laws and values.”
Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said Thursday that they are jointly lodging an unprecedented complaint to the Knesset’s Ethics Committee against the three, saying the meeting constituted incitement and “encouragement to murder.”
The Zionist Union, the largest party in the opposition, said in a statement that the “visit by Balad MKs with families of terrorists encourages more terrorism and killing of innocents.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid called the meeting “a show of hatred and subversion against the State of Israel.”