All in Favor / The Usual Drill

The job description of Arab MKs includes travel to an enemy state and facing police questioning afterward. Yesterday was Said Nafaa's turn.

The duties of an MK are particularly demanding. If you're in Likud, for example, you have to suck up to members of the party's central committee, and if you're from a right-wing party, you have to tangle with police when they come to evacuate outposts in the West Bank. And if you're an Arab MK, then you must travel to enemy states and be questioned by the police upon your return.

"It's a routine part of our political life," MK Ahmed Tibi (Hadash-Ta'al) says. Tibi was questioned about 18 months ago by the International Crimes Investigations Unit of the Israel Police in Petah Tikva about two trips to Lebanon.

So, even before Nafaa, a Druze MK from the Balad party, went to Syria in September, he did not expect to be ignored by the law.

Yesterday it cost him three hours of questioning by the ICIU. It was more comprehensive than he expected. He says the first half-page recorded by his interrogators was sufficient for an indictment, but they wanted details.

To the best of Nafaa's knowledge, he was the only one of the 330 Israelis on the trip to be questioned. Perhaps he can console himself now with the fact that the police are also questioning journalists who travel to enemy states.

In 2002 the relevant law was amended to prohibit Israelis from entering enemy states without the express permission of the interior minister.

The amendment was in response to trips to Syria organized by Azmi Bishara for Israeli Arabs. Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit, who was justice minister then, explained that parliamentary immunity was not intended to permit MKs to travel to enemy countries.

Is that indeed the case? Tibi, for example, claims that immunity is intended precisely for his trips to Lebanon. Nafaa, on the other hand, says he did not claim parliamentary immunity during his questioning by police yesterday; if that is the only thing preventing his indictment, he does not want to use it to avoid prosecution. In practice, since the amendment was passed, several Arab MKs have been questioned but none has been charged. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz probably knows the reason. According to Suzy Navot, an expert on constitutional law from the College of Management, parliamentary immunity definitely covers such trips.

What were the trip highlights for the Arab MKs? Tibi carries with him the sadness of his visit to the monument in the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Lebanon. "It was a character-building experience," Tibi says. "The police asked me if it was true that I said that I bow my head before the martyrs of the camp. I answered that not only did I say it, I also bowed my head."

MKs Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party) and Esterina Tartman (Yisrael Beiteinu) are sponsoring bills that would bar anyone who travels to an enemy state from serving in the Knesset. The bills passed a preliminary reading a few weeks ago and will be discussed in the House Committee shortly. Navot pointed out that one of the implications of these bills is that the decision regarding who can go abroad and who would lose the right to be an MK will shift to the interior minister, which in her opinion would be a blow to the principle of the separation of powers.