Balad MK Basel Ghattas.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A lawmaker with the Arab nationalist Balad Party rejected accusations on Tuesday that his colleagues’ meeting with the families of Palestinian terrorists last week was tantamount to “a provocation.”
The Knesset Ethics Committee suspended Balad’s three MKs from all Knesset activity except for voting on Monday for up to four months, days after the lawmakers met with terrorists’ families.
Balad is one of the parties making up the Joint List.
MKs Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas received four-month suspensions, and Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka, who has fewer past punishments from the committee, will be suspended for two months.
The panel received more than 450 complaints about the lawmakers, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, and from relatives of people killed by the terrorists whose families the Balad MKs met.
Last week, the three MKs met in east Jerusalem with 10 families of terrorists, whose bodies police have declined to give them for burial saying the families refuse to meet the condition of understated funerals to avoid incitement.
The MKs are also accused of having stood in a moment of silence for Palestinian “martyrs.”
The meeting was condemned by members of all the Knesset’s factions except the Joint List.
Also on Monday, coalition party leaders approved in principal a proposal by Netanyahu to allow 90 MKs to vote to suspend a colleague.
In an interview with Army Radio on Tuesday, Ghattas said that the parliamentarians were “simply carrying out their obligations as public servants.”
“I have a very busy schedule in which I serve the Arab public,” he said. “I’m responsible for the Joint List’s economic team, so now I’ll have more time [to deal with that].”
“For months, almost every one of the Joint List MKs has been working to retrieve the bodies,” Ghattas said. “Less than two weeks ago, we met [Public Security Minister Gilad] Erdan and we told him that the families have agreed to the authorities’ conditions in accepting the bodies. He told us that that wasn’t the information that he had, and that we should bring him more accurate information.”
Ghattas said that he was acting as a mediator between the families and the state.
The lawmaker also acknowledged that the participants at the meeting stood up and read an Islamic tract in honor of “the martyrs of Palestine.”
“We went to the meeting that was supposed to be closed and business-oriented because we knew that if word got out it would do damage to the cause,” Ghattas said. “At one part of the meeting we stood up and read a passage [from the Koran] in honor of all of the martyrs of Palestine. It’s not meant to encourage [violence] or to provoke. It was more of a historic custom.”
The Balad deputy told Army Radio that the moment of silence was not unlike the custom observed on Israel’s holidays in honor of fallen soldiers and Holocaust survivors.
“The moment of silence gave us a very strong feeling, a feeling that we are a nation like any other,” Ghattas said. “There is no nation that recognizes and honors its victims like the Jewish people. These are noble customs. The terminology on both sides is different, so a murderer to you is a victim of the occupation in the eyes of my people.”
“If [Israel] wasn’t occupying the West Bank, these children would not have to kill Jews,” the lawmaker said. “Both the government of Israel and Gilad Erdan should want to compromise on the issue of releasing the bodies.”