Bishara suspected of aiding Hizbullah
Former MK denies allegations that he gave info to enemies during wartime.
By DAN IZENBERG, REBECCA ANNA STOIL AND SHEERA CLAIRE FRENKEL
April 25, 2007 15:04
4 minute read.
(photo credit: )
The government suspects former Balad MK Azmi Bishara of providing assistance to an enemy in time of war, passing on information to the enemy, contact with a foreign agent, money-laundering violations and other crimes, according to a decision handed down Wednesday by the Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court.
According to Article 99 (a) of the Criminal Code, "If a person with intent to assist an enemy in war against Israel commits an act calculated to do so, he is liable to the death penalty or to life imprisonment."
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Petah Tikva Magistrate's Court Judge Lia Lev-On partially lifted the gag order regarding the allegations against Bishara. She said she would lift the gag order entirely next week and allow the media to publish all of the details of the investigation.
According to the court's decision, Bishara is suspected of carrying out some of the alleged crimes during the Second Lebanon War. The court ruled that investigators have collected evidence that "confirms the prima facie suspicions that he committed the crimes mentioned above, including receiving substantial sums of money from abroad that were handed over in person to Bishara while he was an MK."
Before he left Israel two weeks ago, Bishara was questioned twice under caution. During the second interrogation, Bishara said he was going abroad for several days and promised to return to continue the questioning. The investigators and Bishara set a date for their next meeting, Lev-On wrote.
When Bishara failed to show up for the scheduled session, the investigators made inquiries. Bishara's aides gave them different dates for his return. Finally, the investigators unilaterally scheduled the next meeting for April 22. Bishara did not show up. In fact, he announced that day he was resigning from the Knesset.
"The investigators are still expecting and hoping that Bishara will return to resume his questioning, as he promised," wrote Lev-On.
The judges said the investigators had respected Bishara's rights, including his parliamentary immunity, which prevented them from putting him in jail and interrogating him there, as is usually the case for such serious allegations.
However, legal experts pointed out that according to Article 3 (a) of the Knesset Members' Immunity Law, "An MK will not be arrested unless he was caught in the act of a crime involving violence, disturbance of the public order or treason."
One of the allegations against Bishara is that he violated Article 99 of the Criminal Code, a provision that comes under the section of the law entitled "Treason."
Police said they had been in close consultation with Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz and State Attorney Eran Shendar throughout the process, as well as with Bishara's overseas contacts.
Investigators on Wednesday said Bishara had notified them that he was going to leave the country, but had also given them his date of return. According to police, Bishara did not return on that date or on later dates they subsequently agreed to.
Police said they had evidence upon which to base their claims, including proof that Bishara received "significant amounts of money originating overseas."
For his part, Bishara accused Israel of trying to frame him.
"The aim is to convene a court to turn Bishara into a petty criminal facing security violations," he told Al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite TV network, from Qatar. Israel, he said, was using him to cover up failures during its war against Hizbullah. Bishara also said he would not return to Israel in the near future.
The allegations against Bishara were "blatant lies," Balad MK Jamal Zahalka said. "These suspicions are biased and distortions of the facts," he added.
Zahalka said the case was a concentrated effort by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to politically destroy Bishara.
Balad MK Wasil Taha said Bishara was being turned into a scapegoat "to distract the public from Israel's failure during the war."
Bishara's resignation from the Knesset took effect Tuesday. He will be replaced by attorney Said Nafa.
MKs from across the political spectrum have reacted harshly to Bishara's handling of the resignation. Some are trying to revoke his pension package and other privileges he would receive as a former MK.
Kadima MK Yoel Hasson said he was going to set up a parliamentary committee of inquiry into the Bishara affair.
"Today, the true face of one of the traitors of Israel has been revealed," he said. "The Knesset needs to launch a serious investigation, and I am ready to establish a parliamentary inquiry committee. The honor of the Knesset is at stake."
Hasson said the Knesset needed to reconsider the electoral process that allowed Balad into the Knesset.
Likud MK Gilad Erdan said the case proved that "Bishara never was loyal to the State of Israel," and called for him to be treated like a fugitive. He said he would continue to work for a law that would revoke the privileges of any MK who left office under shameful circumstances.
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai called on Interior Minister Ronnie Bar-On to immediately revoke Bishara's citizenship.
Other MKs called for Israel to treat Bishara as a fugitive and bring him to justice.
"The allegations against Bishara prove that Trojan horses serving a fifth column have infiltrated the Knesset," National Religious Party chairman Zevulun Orlev said. "The authorities must capture Bishara anywhere he tries to take cover and bring him to trial in Israel," he added.
Labor MK Ami Ayalon said the allegations against Bishara were very serious and, if correct, constituted "severe treason."
"The legal authorities must do everything possible to have Bishara prosecuted," he said. "Israel should act firmly against nationalistic extremists like Bishara and act with the same firmness to create true equal rights for Israel's Arabs."