Police question Arab-Israeli MK suspected of passing phones to Palestinian inmates

Environment Minister Ze'ev Elkin meanwhile continues signature-gathering operation to start the process of impeaching Joint List MK Basel Ghattas.

December 20, 2016 10:48
3 minute read.
 Bassel Ghattas

MK Bassel Ghattas. (photo credit: KNESSET CHANNEL)

Police began questioning Arab-Israeli MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List) on Tuesday morning following allegations that he attempted to smuggle cell phones to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jail.

On Monday, authorities opened an investigation on suspicion that Ghattas had smuggled mobile phones into Palestinian security prisoners.

"This is all political persecution. Everything's okay, we are used to this kind of investigation. Everything is in order to harm our struggle," Ghattas said to a group of journalists on Tuesday before entering police questioning at the Lahav 433 office in Lod.

According to a Channel 2 report, Ghattas, a member of the Balad party of the Joint List faction, is suspected of smuggling phones to two Fatah prisoners in Ketziot Prison in the Negev. One of the prisoners is supposedly serving a 37-year sentence.

MK Basel Ghattas at a police station for questioning, December 20, 2016. (Credit: Khaled Titi)

Meanwhile, in the Knesset, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin continued his signature-gathering operation to start the process of impeaching Ghattas. He needs 70 signatures, including 10 from the opposition, to call a hearing in the Knesset House Committee. However, the leaders of all the opposition’s factions came out against the effort, saying they would rather let the police and judiciary deal with Ghattas.

Elkin said he is in favor of letting the criminal justice process move forward, but that does not contradict impeaching Ghattas.

“The criminal process should happen as fast as possible, but…it’ll take a year or two,” Elkin explained on Army Radio. “Once [Ghattas] is no longer an MK, the process will go more quickly, because the police will not have to beg him to show up for questioning.”

Ghattas cannot be arrested as long as he has parliamentary immunity. His immunity can be removed if the Attorney-General’s decides to do so – though he can appeal the decision – but first the police must make recommendations to the State Attorney’s Office, which studies the recommendations, and gives them to the Attorney-General, who would then draft an indictment, and Ghattas would get a hearing before the actual indictment is submitted and his immunity is removed.

Elkin waved off the argument that impeaching Ghattas would be considering him guilty before he had his day in court.

“Notice that in the last two days no one heard Ghattas say ‘I didn’t do it,’” the minister said. “The facts are very clear here, and he doesn’t deny them.”

Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Avi Dichter (Likud), a former Shin Bet chief, argued that letting Ghattas into the Knesset building would put other MKs in danger.

“Ghattas is a real danger,” Dichter said. “As an MK, he enjoys not only immunity when he goes to visit terrorists in prison, but also when he enters the Knesset without being checked in any way.”

A cell phone, Dichter explained, is not only a mode of communication, it’s a tool of warfare that terrorists use to command other terrorists in the field.

“This man can enter the Knesset with weapons, to leave them in his office, and after that, someone can come and act on a plot and even, God forbid, hurt the prime minister or someone else,” he stated.

“His foot cannot step in the Knesset,” Dichter argued.

MK Oded Forrer (Bayit Yehudi) submitted a bill Tuesday inspired by Ghattas, that is meant to deter MKs from committing security offenses in the future.

The legislation would double the penalty for such crimes if committed by an elected official.

“Elected officials must understand the great responsibility they have,” Forrer said. “We are exposed to confidential materials and are allowed to enter places to which not all citizens have access, and together with authority comes responsibility.”

Therefore, according to Forrer, when an elected official harms national security it is worse than others, and because he or she was sent to represent Israeli citizens.

“I hope this bill will be legislated quickly and will lead MK Ghattas to be punished as severely as possible,” he added.

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