Balad MK Basel Ghattas.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Balad MK Basel Ghattas said on Friday that he smuggled cellphones to security prisoners for humanitarian and moral reasons.
Ghattas signed a plea bargain agreement on Thursday in which he confessed to smuggling the cellphones to security prisoners in Ketziot Prison in the Negev and agreed to serve two years in jail and resign his Knesset seat; the lawmaker was not charged on more serious security related offenses. The indictment was filed against Ghattas in the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court on Friday.
Balad is one of four parties that make up the Joint List.
“I hope that the price that I pay will not be for nothing,” Ghattas told reporters in Nazareth, adding that he hoped to draw international and local attention to Palestinian prisoners held under administrative detention in Israel.
Ghattas also said authorities “crossed a series of redlines,” and blamed “racist incitement” for his parliamentary immunity being removed. “For the first time, parliamentary immunity was stripped from a Knesset member, and immediately afterward, I was arrested for five days without an investigation during that time.”
In a statement on Thursday, the state prosecution said it would seek a fine for the lawmaker, along with a finding of moral turpitude, which would block Ghattas from public service for seven years after completing his sentence.
Ghattas was caught on video visiting Ketziot Prison, some 70 km. southwest of Beersheba, on December 18, where he smuggled cellphones to Walid Daka, who is serving a life sentence for killing 19-year-old soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984, and to Bassel Basra, who is serving a 15-year sentence for security offenses. Both men are Fatah members.
A related indictment against Asad Daka, who gave Ghattas the cellphones, said that Daka asked Ghattas to help smuggle items into the prison, relying on the MK’s parliamentary immunity from being searched when visiting prisoners.
In response to the news of the plea bargain, MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu) said the amount of prison time given for such an act was a disgrace. “This light punishment harms the deterrence effect and will encourage shameful acts like these in future,” he said.
“Ghattas will be released from prison after only two years and will be received as a hero and a freedom fighter by those who want to see the demise of the State of Israel. This is not the message we want to deliver to traitors and spies who are acting to destroy us,” Ilatov said.
Deputy Knesset Speaker Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) said the deal spared the Knesset from “the shameful act of impeachment.”
“It was proved today that there is no room for impeachment in the Israeli democracy,” he said. “I am happy that this is how things turned out, and not as wanted by the right-wing MKs obsessively insisting on impeaching Ghattas [and ejecting him] from the Knesset.”
Udi Shaham contributed to this report.