MK Basel Ghattas.
(photo credit: KOKO/POOL ISRAEL HAYOM)
Balad MK Basel Ghattas, who is suspected of smuggling phones to Palestinian prisoners, struck a defiant tone as he was released into house arrest yesterday, accusing authorities of “fabricating the file” against him.
Ghattas was released after six days in prison on Tuesday and placed under house arrest for ten days, during which he will be allowed to participate in Knesset committee meetings and votes.
“It became clear that the arrest was political and unjustified,” he told the Arab48 website. “Neither the issue nor the course of the investigation required [me to remain under] arrest for all those days.
The arrest was a show arrest, with the aim of inflating the accusation and fabricating the file as if there was a dangerous security charge facing an Arab member of parliament.”
Rishon LeZion Magistrate’s Court Judge Moshe Mizrahi agreed to the request of Ghattas’s lawyers that he be allowed to travel to the Knesset, on condition that he is accompanied there. Once inside the Knesset, Ghattas does not have to be accompanied.
Ghattas was arrested on Thursday shortly after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity on suspicion of conspiracy, fraud and breach of trust for bringing cellphones and SIM cards to two prisoners, Basel Bezre and Walid Daka. Daka is serving a 37-year sentence for the murder of soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.
The case has ratcheted up tensions between Balad and authorities, with Balad leaders saying the investigation of Ghattas is a step towards banning the party, which is uncompromising in its opposition to the Zionist ethos of the state and seeks to transform Israel from a Jewish state into a “state of all its citizens.” For right-wing legislators, the telephone allegations are further proof that Balad is dangerous and subversive. Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz last week likened Balad to Islamic State.
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Brig.-Gen. Yuval Biton, head of the Prisons Service intelligence division, said last week that smuggled phones are generally used by prisoners to orchestrate terrorist attacks rather than contact relatives.
Balad leaders allege that Ghattas is being targeted as part of a larger process that included last year’s banning of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, police arrests of dozens of Balad party members as part of a campaign financing probe, Knesset legislative initiatives, including the bill to ban loudspeakers in mosques from sounding the call to prayer and the passage of a law last July allowing for expulsion of lawmakers for incitement to racism and support of armed struggle against Israel.
Mizrahi set bail at NIS 50,000 and Ghattas is forbidden to leave the country during the next six months or visit prisoners during that period.
Police had requested that Ghattas be placed under house arrest for 45 days.
Ghattas told Arab48 that the arrest was an attempt at “political assassination.”
“The issue from the beginning is part of the political persecution in the framework of political oppression against the Arab citizens. From the first moment, I declared I have nothing to hide and I answered every question put to me in the investigation and gave my explanation of what happened. This [explanation] is the truth of what happened and I adhere to this truth,” he said.
Ghattas added that working on behalf of prisoners “is the least I can do. This is a humanitarian issue of conscience that we will not give up, regardless of the price and regardless of the punishment.”
Police arrested Asad Daka at 4:20 a.m. on Tuesday, on suspicion of having given Ghattas a phone to smuggle to his sibling, and was remanded until Thursday for assisting Ghattas in conveying a forbidden and dangerous object. “There is a reasonable basis for concern that freeing the suspect will endanger public security and lead to disruption of the investigation,” Mizrahi said in court. Police submitted a classified file to Mizrahi during the deliberation Asad owns a café in Baka al-Gharbiya. In an interview with The Jerusalem Post in early November, he denied that his brother had murdered Tamam and said his brother “believes in a state of all its citizens with everything open, where the defense minister can be Moshe and the prime minister Muhammad.” He added that his brother had a plan for achieving peace.
Asad’s lawyer, Alaa Tellawi, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday night that his client denied giving Ghattas a phone and said he only gave him books to deliver to his brother.
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