Former MK Said Nafa (Balad) on Sunday was convicted of meeting with Deputy Secretary- General Talal Naji of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist group during an illegal trip to Syria in 2007.
Nafa was found innocent of a separate charge of meeting or trying to meet with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, though the court said its ruling on that charge was more about preserving the principle of reasonable doubt than it was an indication that the court believed Nafa was innocent.
Nafa’s trial started in January 2012, following his indictment by the Northern District Attorney’s Office in December 2011.
By law, Israelis may visit enemy states only if they receive permission from the interior minister.
In July 2007, Nafa contacted the Interior Ministry to request travel permits to Syria for himself and a group of Druse Israelis, but the ministry refused the request, citing security concerns.
After that refusal, in September 2007 Nafa contacted a group of eight Druse clergymen and asked them to arrange for him to travel to Syria with a group of Druse religious leaders.
Nafa received a list of the names of those wishing to travel to Syria, which included former Balad chairman and MK Azmi Bishara.
Bishara, who fled Israel in 2007, is wanted for questioning by police on suspicion of aiding and passing information to the enemy, including during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Once in Jordan, Nafa and Bishara allegedly obtained travel permits to Syria from the Syrian Embassy.
Nafa visited Syria between September 6 and 13, 2007.
While in Damascus, Nafa met with a man named Nihad Malkhem, who arranged a meeting between him and Naji of the PFLP.
The indictment had charged that Nafa tried to secretly make contact with Mashaal during Nafa’s alleged meeting with Malkhem. It had said that Naji telephoned Mashaal and arranged a meeting for the next morning.
It had further alleged that Naji referred to Mashaal by the nickname Abu al-Walid and told him that “a Balad party MK” would attend a meeting with him the next day.
The indictment had alleged that Nafa knew Mashaal’s nickname is Abu al-Walid and that he was interested in meeting with the Hamas leader.
But Malkhem, who turned state’s witness against Nafa, did not accompany Nafa to the alleged meeting with Mashaal, so he could neither confirm that there was such a meeting nor that Nafa seriously pursued such a meeting.
The case against Nafa came after Knesset’s House Committee denied Nafa’s request in January 2010 for parliamentary immunity from prosecution, a move that allowed state prosecutors to file charges against him.
That decision was made after then-attorney-general Menahem Mazuz announced in December 2009 that Nafa would be indicted for violating both the Penal Code and the Emergency Defense Regulations by visiting Syria without permission and for allegedly meeting with Naji and Mashaal.
Nafa, who had denied meeting PFLP and Hamas members, had slammed the indictment against him as “outrageous discrimination,” and said thousands of Israeli civilians have visited Syria without being indicted.