Attorney General to Indict Arab Lawmaker Over Smuggling Phones 'For Terrorist Use'

Judge lifts house arrest order from MK Basel Ghattas, who is suspected of smuggling cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners in Israel.

Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas arrives for questioning in relation to accusations that he smuggled cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners, December 21, 2016.
Nir Keidar

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit approved the indictment of Israeli Arab MK Basel Ghattas on Thursday morning on charges of illegally smuggling phones into a prison, prohibited use of property for terrorist purposes, as well as deceit and breach of trust by a public servant and aggravated fraud.

MK Ghattas (Joint List) is suspected of smuggling cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners in Israel. He was questioned by police about two weeks ago and arrested last week after his parliamentary immunity was lifted.

He had been under house arrest during the investigation, but a judge lifted that order on Thursday, saying it was sufficient to deny him access to Prison Services installations, and to prevent him from leaving the country. 

On Monday, a legislative panel suspended Ghattas from participating in Knesset committees. The Ethics Committee, however, decided not to revoke Ghattas' voting rights nor did it freeze his salary. Last week, the Knesset's speaker decided in coordination with its legal advisor not to permit Ghattas to vote while he is still under arrest.

On Sunday, the brother of a Palestinian security prisoner was indicted for providing Ghattas with cellphones allegedly smuggled to other security prisoners during a visit to an Israeli jail last month.

Attorney Namir Adalbi, representing Ghattas, told Haaretz that "the decision of the attorney general and State Prosecutor's Office to announce an indictment so quickly is an attempt to pressure the court into convening at lunchtime today to extend Ghattas' house arrest. We agreed to the removal of immunity solely for investigative purposes, but that doesn’t rule out the option that we'll claim immunity over the indictment." 

Ghattas' defense team called Mendelblit's approval of indictment illegal and intended to prevent the MK's right to a hearing.