Arab Israeli Ex-lawmaker, Jailed for Smuggling Cellphones, Released From Prison

Basel Ghattas admitted he brought in cellphones to a security prisoner, but insists his motive was humanitarian and not criminal

Basel Ghattas in court in 2017.
Yehuda Peretz

Arab Israeli former lawmaker Basel Ghattas was released Monday after serving a two-year sentence for smuggling cellphones and SIM cards to Palestinian security prisoners.

Ghattas, who served as a member of Knesset for the Arab party Balad, was convicted of fraud and breach of trust, providing means to carry out terror acts, smuggling electronic equipment into a prison and delivering a forbidden document. He entered prison in July 2017 and also resigned from the Knesset.

A festive reception in honor of Ghattas' release was held in the northern Israel village of Rameh, where he resides. 

Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court approved the plea bargain in April, under which Ghattas was sentenced to a two-year prison term, 18 months’ probation and a 120,000-shekel ($34,000) fine. The court also defined his offenses as moral turpitude.

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Basel Ghattas and his family members at his bother's house in northern Israel after his release from prison, May 27, 2019.

Ghattas had requested early release and the parole board recommended that he be referred to a rehabilitation program. However, the prison service alleged that he is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, considered a terrorist organization, and therefore doesn’t meet the criteria for the program. Ghattas denies being a member of the Popular Front.

The former lawmaker admitted to the charges against him, saying Walid Daka – a security prisoner convicted for the murder of Israeli soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984 – asked him to bring cellphones to the Ketziot Prison and deliver them to Basel Suliman Bazrah, a prisoner convicted of terror offenses.

He claimed throughout that his actions were based on humanitarian motives to aid the prisoners’ plight, so they could call their families amid difficult conditions in prison. He also claimed he had no intention of harming state security.

Ghattas had asked the Israel Prison Service to grant him permission to visit Daka and Bazrah. Ghattas said he wanted to “listen to the prisoners’ complaints regarding their incarceration conditions, and to try to examine a way to ease the conditions of their imprisonment.”

On December 18, 2016, Ghattas met with Assad Daka, Walid Daka’s brother, who handed the lawmaker sealed packages containing 12 cellphones, 16 SIM cards, two chargers and a pair of headphones, which Ghattas subsequently took to the prison.

The metal detector sounded on Ghattas’ arrival, but since he was a lawmaker, the prison guard refrained from conducting a body search. In his meeting with Daka, Ghattas passed along documents, which according to the indictment were of “no security significance.” Minutes later, he met with Bazrah and delivered the cellphones. The meeting was captured on prison security cameras, and the items Ghattas gave the prisoners were found on them after the visit.