Former Knesset Member Starts One-year Term for Visiting Enemy State Syria

Ex-Balad MK Said Naffaa calls the conviction 'political revenge' and says contacts with neighboring Arab countries are necessary.

Abdullah Shama

Former Knesset member Said Naffaa (Balad) has begun his one-year prison sentence for visiting Syria, an enemy state, and meeting with a foreign agent — a sentence he said was “political revenge.”

In April 2014, the Nazareth District Court found Naffaa guilty of meeting with Talal Naji, deputy director general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, in Syria in 2007, but acquitted him on the charge of meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal.

On August 31 this year, the Supreme Court rejected Naffaa’s appeal.

Dozens of supporters Sunday were waiting for Naffaa outside Gilboa Prison, including MKs from the Joint List and other Arab politicians.

“I do not regret anything and am convinced that this is political revenge by the Israeli government. I did not harm the security of anyone and acted to allow family visits in a country that for us is not an enemy nation,” Naffaa said at the prison entrance.

“Our unity is the most important thing. It’s what will guarantee continued connections with the countries around us. My imprisonment does not cancel this process; it’s the role of the younger generation.”

According to the conviction, Naffaa traveled to Syria — defined by Israel as an enemy state — even though he was clearly told by the interior minister that this was prohibited.

In the appeal, Supreme Court justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Neal Hendel and Zvi Zylbertal rejected Naffaa’s claims that he had parliamentary immunity for such trips because they were made for political and ideological reasons for which he was elected.

“An MK may have been elected based on his worldview, which he promised his voters to promote,” the justices wrote in their decision. “But the means to promote this worldview must always be legal means.”

They said Naffaa’s actions were not a legal part of his parliamentary duties; rather, “we are dealing with illegal acts that stand on their own and so are not covered by parliamentary immunity.”

Naffaa’s attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Aram Mahameed said the law forbidding Israelis form traveling to certain Arab countries such as Syria and Lebanon should be abolished.

They said the ban was repressive because it prevented a national minority from launching cultural, political and social contacts with its own people.