Balad MK Basel Ghattas.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Former Joint List (Balad) MK Basel Ghattas entered Gilboa Prison in northern Israel for a two-year sentence on Sunday after being convicted of smuggling cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners.
Before entering the prison, Ghattas, 61, said he had his “head held high” and would continue his political activity once he exits prison.
“I will leave prison in two years’ time, standing tall and a head held high, to continue the path of political activity that I have been doing for the past 40 years,” he said.
Ghattas, who accepted the sentence as part of the plea deal in March, previously said he smuggled the phones and SIM cards for “humanitarian and moral reasons.”
Basel Ghattas in court after being arrested for allegedly smuggling phones to prisoners, Dec. 23, 2016
The ex-MK was caught on video visiting Ketziot Prison, some 70 km. southwest of Beersheba, on December 18, where he smuggled cellphones to Walid Daka, serving a life sentence for killing 19-year-old soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984, and to Bassel Basra, serving a 15-year sentence for security offenses. Both men are Fatah members.
Israeli authorities said Ghattas used his immunity to bring the materials into the prison without being searched by prison guards.
On Sunday, he was accompanied by Balad MKs Jamal Zahalka and Haneen Zoabi, as well as a number of supporters who chanted and clapped in support.
In response to Ghattas’s statements on Sunday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he was “proud” that the prison service caught the ex-MK, “exposing [his] true face as an aid to terror.”
Erdan expressed satisfaction that he had been “excluded from the Israeli Knesset – and we have more work to do to get a few more like you out of the Knesset.” The minister added that Ghattas’s “real place” was “behind bars.”
Ghattas was also fined and found to be guilty of moral turpitude, which blocks him from public service for seven years after completing his sentence.
He resigned his Knesset seat as part of the plea deal, thus avoiding an impeachment process. He had been an MK since 2013.
“I hope that the price I pay will not be for nothing,” he told reporters in Nazareth in March, adding that he hoped to draw international and local attention to Palestinian prisoners held under administrative detention in Israel.
Born in Nazareth, he holds a PhD in engineering from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.