Israeli Arab Ex-lawmaker Ghattas Starts Prison Sentence After Smuggling Cellphones to Inmates

Former Joint List MK will serve two-year term after transferring cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners; says he acted 'for humanitarian reasons'

Former MK Basel Ghattas delivering a statement before entering Gilboa Prison, northern Israel, July 2, 2017.
Gil Eliahu

Former MK Basel Ghattas began his two-year prison sentence at Gilboa Prison on Sunday, as part of his plea bargain for smuggling cellphones and SIM cards to Palestinian security prisoners last year.

In a statement outside the prison, Ghattas said he “acted for humanitarian reasons and on behalf of the prisoners. In the past two months I have enjoyed time with my family and with many of my people and supporters, who have given me great strength ahead of this time – which is, of course, a difficult time on a personal level. At a later stage I intend to demand that my punishment be eased. I hope this demand will be met and that I will not serve the full term.”

In his March plea bargain, Ghattas was convicted of fraud and breach of trust, providing means to carry out terror acts, smuggling electronic equipment into prison and delivering a forbidden document. He also resigned from the Knesset.

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

On Saturday evening, an event in support of Ghattas was held in the north Israel village of Rameh. Participants included Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh, Joint List lawmakers, members of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and activists from Ghattas’ Balad party.

Ghattas said he was entering prison as a member of the Palestinian people, dispossessed of land and justice, acting and struggling for freedom. “The ‘crime’ I committed was not different from the crimes of others, from the freedom fighters [fighting] for their freedom and for the freedom of the Palestinian people,” he said.

Another attendee was actor-director Einat Weitzman, whose play “Prisoners of the Occupation” was banned last month from the Acre Fringe Theater Festival. She told Ghattas, “Your act constitutes resistance to the condition the prisoners are held in.”

Ghattas had admitted 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 Ketziot Prison and deliver them to Basel Suliman Bazrah, a prisoner convicted of terror offenses.

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 Ghattas 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.

Ghattas 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.