Police question MKs Bishara, a-Sanaa over trips to Syria and Lebanon

Police at the International Serious Crimes Unit in Petah Tikva questioned MKs Azmi Bishara and Taleb a-Sanaa on Monday about recent trips to Arab countries that are considered enemy states. Attorney General Menahem Mazuz ordered the police to investigate the two after Balad MK Bishara went to Lebanon in December and United Arab List MK a-Sanaa went to Syria in November, both without the necessary permission from the Interior Ministry. Nine months before his latest trip, Bishara went to Lebanon to attend the funeral of slain Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, and Mazuz let this first trip go by on the grounds that it had been a bereavement visit. However, Mazuz warned Bishara at the time that it was against the law for MKs to visit enemy countries. A spokesman for Bishara said the MK, who is also an author, went to Lebanon after being invited to a book fair. The police questioned him about the "dry facts" of the trip, such as when he went and whether he received permission for the trip, according to the spokesman. However, Bishara hadn't even requested permission, because he didn't believe he would have gotten it and that he shouldn't have to make the application in the first place, his spokesman said. "The nub of our argument is that freedom of movement is essential when carrying out a job as an MK," the spokesman said. "It is impossible to limit this. The person who does limit this is the Interior Minister, who is a politician." The spokesman added that whoever wants to contact hostiles agents could do so anywhere, including in Israel, and not just in an enemy state. "There is no suspicion that he was in contact with hostile agents. There is no security issue here at all," he said. "Syria and Lebanon, from our point of view, are not enemy states." A-Sanaa said he requested permission for his trip to Syria after receiving an invitation from the country's parliament, but didn't receive an answer from the Interior Ministry. He went anyway. "I argued that I'm an MK chosen in order to promote peace. It's impossible to promote peace without visits, meetings and talks," he said. "For me, Syria is not an enemy state. It's an Arab country and I'm an Arab." While in the country, a-Sanaa met the heads of the parliament and the ruling Ba'ath party, but not President Bashar Al-Assad. The investigation of Bishara is the latest in a series of probes over the last several years. Earlier this month, the High Court of Justice ruled that the MK's parliamentary immunity protected him from being put on trial for controversial statements allegedly supporting terror organizations. That decision ended a court battle that had lasted several years. When Bishara was in Lebanon in December, the country's news agencies and its Al-Safir newspaper reported several anti-Israel statements Bishara uttered. "This conflict is possibly endless. We must keep its embers burning. Why do some Arab leaders declare readiness to recognize Israel as a state? This is capitulation. Some Arabs may want to surrender, but they cannot force us to surrender with them. We shall go on fighting," he was reported as saying. Bishara and a-Sanaa are not the only Arab MKs to have been investigated recently for visiting countries defined as enemy states. In June, Mazuz ordered police to investigate a trip to Lebanon by Hadash-Ta'al MK Ahmed Tibi, who was also let off with a warning for an earlier visit to the country. Tibi was questioned in September for several hours by the International Serious Crimes Unit.