Israeli-Arab Ex-lawmaker Formally Convicted for Smuggling Phones to Prisoners

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Basel Ghattas after being questioned by the police, December 2016.
Basel Ghattas after being questioned by the police, December 2016.Credit: Nir Keidar

Basel Ghattas, who before his resignation this week represented the mainly Arab Joint List in Israel's legislature, was convicted on Wednesday for passing cellphones and documents to security prisoners.

In accordance with a plea bargain signed last week, Ghattas was convicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust, providing material support for the perpetuation of an act of terror and smuggling a prohibited letter and electronic equipment into a prison.

The indictment against Ghattas, who said that his actions were motivated by conscience, was served on Friday, and on Sunday he tendered his resignation from the Knesset.

The former legislator's sentence will be read on April 9. Under the plea bargain, Ghattas will serve a two-year prison sentence. No agreement was reached on whether or not his offenses will be deemed crimes of moral turpitude, a definition that would impose restrictions on public service in the future. Also still unsettled is the duration of Ghattas' probation after serving out his sentence, and whether he will be ordered to pay a fine. All these questions have been left up to the sentencing judge, Judge Itay Bresler-Gonen of the Be'er Sheva Magistrate's Court.

In court on Wednesday, Deputy Southern District Prosecutor Yoav Kishon asked that Ghattas be fined and noted that the label of moral turpitude entails economic sanctions, such as the cancellation of benefits to which former Knesset members are entitled.

Ghattas' lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, expressed opposition to the levying of a fine and financial sanctions on his client, but said he did not object to probation and to barring Ghattas from election to the Knesset as part of a classification of moral turpitude.

Ghattas told the court that his actions were not the result of malicious intent or a desire to aid terror organization. Rather, they were done "for humanitarian reasons, even if they seemed to be mistake. My feeling is that I am not facing a system that seeks justice, but rather windmills that are trying to destroy me." He added that his actions became public he has felt himself under physical threat at times.

In December, Ghattas smuggled 12 cellphones, 16 SIM cards, two cellphone chargers and a pair of earphones into Ketziot Prison and gave them to security prisoners, after receiving permission to meet with the prisoners in order to hear their complaints about their incarceration conditions.  

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