Ghattas’s detention extended for another day

Balad leader says Joint List MK’s arrest part of larger "attack" on Arabs.

December 27, 2016 06:38
4 minute read.

Basel Ghattas in court after being arrested for allegedly smuggling phones to prisoners, Dec. 23, 2016

Basel Ghattas in court after being arrested for allegedly smuggling phones to prisoners, Dec. 23, 2016


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Balad MK Basel Ghattas’s remand was extended on Monday for another day by Rishon LeZion Magistrate Court Judge Moshe Mizrahi, who said there was a “significant development” in the investigation, and that there are “reasonable grounds to suspect that to release [Ghattas] would endanger public safety and disrupt the investigation process.”

Nevertheless, Mizrahi did not agree to the police request that the arrest be extended for four days, saying that arrest extensions of an MK “should be granted sparingly.”

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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 Fatah prisoners – one of them serving a 37-year sentence for murder – in Ketziot prison.

Brig-Gen. Yuval Biton, head of the Israel prison service intelligence division, told the Knesset's house committee last week that smuggled phones are generally used to orchestrate terror attacks rather than contact relatives.

A leader of the embattled Balad party charged that the investigation of Ghattas is being used as part of an effort to delegitimize political activity among Arab citizens.

“There’s a huge attack on the Palestinian minority, part of this attack is on the political leadership,” said Sami Abu Shehadeh, a Balad central committee member. “Netanyahu and his right-wing government are trying to redraw a new line for the political game in Israel, and in this new game the Palestinian minority is not a legitimate player.”

Abu Shehadeh said Ghattas was 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 a bill to ban loudspeakers in the mosque 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.

“They are trying to delegitimize Balad to put it outside the law, and then they will attack the next movement,” said Abu Shehadeh. “It won’t stop with Balad.”

He alleged that Israeli Jewish society is acquiescing in the perceived government onslaught against the minority.

“There is something horrific happening,” he said. “The worst thing is that nobody in Israeli Jewish society cares. I can understand that the government has support. But in a society claiming to be democratic and enlightened, you’d expect at least a small percentage not to accept what’s happening. We are talking about the imprisonment of a member of Knesset. Other MKs accused of much harder, of ugly things were not imprisoned.”

Dozens of people protested outside the courthouse in Rishon Lezion demanding Ghattas’s release, including Balad MKs Jamal Zahalka and Haneen Zoabi, Balad president Awad Abdul-Fattah and Masud Gnaim (Joint List).

“The message is to condemn the wave of incitement against the Arab leadership and Arab public, and the despotic measures against Basel Ghattas, namely his being arrested before there was an indictment or even a court session,” Ganaim told The Jerusalem Post. “If he was a Jewish MK they wouldn’t act this way. They would investigate him but without inflating it and without revoking his immunity.”

MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Union), who was not at the demonstration, said “perhaps extending the arrest is excessive because there were leaders who were accused of very grave charges who were not arrested before the end of the investigation, but maybe is this is because we are apparently, according to the charges, talking about a security matter.”

Bahloul said that the Arab minority since the establishment of the state “decreed to itself that it would not harm state security. This is a red line for us. If he is convicted we will be able to know if he passed this red line.”

The investigation has begun to attract attention in the Arab world.

Muin Biyari, opinion editor of the London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed website, termed the police probe “a calumny by [Israeli] intelligence.”

Biyari alleged that the real cause of the probe was to undermine support for the larger Palestinian cause by Palestinian citizens of Israel.

“It is also because of what Basel Ghattas himself represents” Biyari wrote yesterday, noting that the Balad MK had sailed in a flotilla bound for Gaza in June, and declared in September that Shimon Peres was responsible for war crimes.

Biyari wrote that the investigation “requires the Palestinian public in all of Palestine and outside of it to support him with all manner of protest and pressures, including appealing to rights bodies in the world. Let the issue become a new occasion for demonstrating the racist nature of the occupation state and affirming the unity of the Palestinian people.”

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