In Plea Bargain, Israeli Arab Lawmaker to Admit to Terror-related Offense for Two Years in Prison

Under the deal expected to be finalized in court on Sunday, Basel Ghattas will admit to committing an act that could lead either directly or indirectly to acts of terrorism by smuggling cellphones to two Arab prisoners.

Jack Khoury
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MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint List appears in the Magistrate's Court over suspicions that he smuggled cell phones to Palestinian prisoners, January 5, 2017.
MK Basel Ghattas of the Joint List appears in the Magistrate's Court over suspicions that he smuggled cell phones to Palestinian prisoners, January 5, 2017.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Jack Khoury

Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas has agreed to a plea bargain under which he will serve two years in prison for admitting to smuggling cellphones to Arab security prisoners in December.

According to the deal, Ghattas will be indicted on Sunday and he will resign from the Knesset. The lawmaker plans to convene a news conference on Friday to explain his decision.

Ghattas will be convicted of bringing devices that could lead to acts of terrorism, offenses which carry a maximum 10 year sentence.

Ghattas was videotaped in mid-December passing envelopes to inmates during a visit to Ketziot Prison.

One of the prisoners, Walid Daka, is serving a life sentence for involvement, as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in the 1984 kidnap and murder of IDF soldier Moshe Tamam. The other prisoner, Basel Suliman Bazrah, is serving 15 years for security offenses related to terrorism.

An earlier draft of the indictment published last month at a hearing which Ghattas did not attend alleges that Daka’s brother, Assad Daka, handed Ghattas four packages containing 12 cellphones, 16 SIM cards and other communications equipment for Ghattas to smuggle into the prison at a meetup on the Trans-Israel Highway.

Ghattas hid the packages inside his shirt along with documents when he visited the prison. A metal detector went off as he entered the prison ground, but he told the guard that his belt had set off the detector.

Ghattas refused to remove it and pass through a second time, saying that because of his parliamentary immunity he could not be searched. At the prison he met with Daka, handed him the documents, and later met with Bazrah, and handed him the cellphones and the other equipment.

A Justice Ministry statement on Ghattas said he “was aware that the communications equipment would be given to security prisoners and it was almost certain that it would be used to harm national security.”

Ghattas, a member of the Joint List, the largest Arab party in the Knesset, belongs to its smaller more extremist Balad caucus.

The Knesset House Committee stripped Ghattas of parliamentary immunity on December 21. At that time Ghattas said he would clear his good name in court.

In an interview on the Nazareth-based Radio Al-Shams, Ghattas accused the police and law enforcement system of conducting a campaign of incitement and defamation against him. He insisted he had committed no crime and did nothing to harm the security of Israel and that his visits to the prisoners are for humanitarian reasons.

Ghattas accused the parliamentary committee at that time of persecuting him based on media leaks from the police, even before he was questioned.