Israeli Arab Lawmaker Suspected of Smuggling Phones to Palestinian Security Prisoners

Prison personnel found 12 phones on inmates whom Basel Ghattas met. Ghattas: It's 'political persecution.' Lieberman: More proof Arab party is 'Joint list of spies and traitors.'

Yaniv Kubovich
Jack Khoury
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Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas.
Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Yaniv Kubovich
Jack Khoury

Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas (Joint List) will be summoned by the police for questioning for allegedly smuggling mobile phones to Palestinians imprisoned in Israel. No date has been set yet for his appearance at the Lahav 443 national investigations unit. 

According to the Israel Prison Services, they received information that the lawmaker was planning to smuggle mobile phones into the Keziot Prison for security prisoners. After he visited the prison, prison personnel searched several prisoners who have been in touch with Ghattas and found 12 mobile phones. As he was leaving the prison, police were called in, but Ghattas ignored police instructions and left the area.

The police have instructed border control officers at the border crossings with Jordan and Egypt, as well as at Ben-Gurion International Airport, to be alert to the possibility that Ghattas will attempt to leave the country to avoid the investigation. 

Police informed Ghattas that the interrogation regards the mobile phones.

A member of the political bureau of Ghattas' party Balad, one of the parties that forms the Joint List, Niveen Abu Rahmoun, was also questioned by the police.

Ghattas' office said they were surprised by reports that the investigation concerned mobile phones. Ghattas had not visited security prisoners for the past two months until Sunday, when he conducted his first such visit in a long time at the Keziot Prison in the Negev, his office said. However, the issue of summoning Ghattas for questioning arose a few days ago and is not connected to Sunday's visit, they said.

Ghattas said he would appear for the investigation after coordinating the time with the police: "It is clear the police are determined to continue the political persecution of the members and leaders of Balad and this entire conduct testifies to the policy of political revenge that does not frighten us and will not frighten us in the future either."  

Ghattas added that "visits to prisoners by Arab Knesset members are conducted in coordination with the Prisons Service and with the approval of the Public Security Ministry. I have nothing to hide, I will continue to represent the Arab public through legitimate political activity."

The fact that the police coordinate the date for the investigation and even leak that such an investigation exists shows that this is not a major case, said sources in Balad. They mentioned the affair concerning the investigation of the founder of the party, former MK Azmi Bishara, concerning allegations that he had passed information to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The investigation against Bishara was conducted in secrecy and without leaks, they said. Investigators confronted him with intelligence information and other materials when he arrived for questioning. Bishara later fled to Qatar.

'Joint List of spies and traitors'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that if the suspicions against Ghattas turn out to be true, then this is a serious offense against national security and Israel's citizens. "Whoever harms national security must be severely punished and cannot be allowed to serve in the Knesset," Netanyahu said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman reacted to the suspicions against Ghattas in a Facebook post. 

"This is just one more proof that the Joint List is in fact the joint list of spies and traitors," Lieberman wrote. "We will continue to act not just so they will not be a part of the Israeli parliament, but also so they will not be citizens of Israel," he said.

The police have been conducting for months on suspicions of fraud, money laundering, violations of campaign financing laws and other crimes concerning of the municipal elections in 2013.  

At this stage it seems there is no connection between the investigation concerning Ghattas and the security prisoners and the campaign funding fraud investigation, but both affairs are still in the midst of investigation and the police will most likely examine whether the funds the party received were involved in any way in the affair with the security prisoners. 

The questioning of Ghattas comes two months after two other Balad MKs, Jamal Zahalka and Haneen Zoabi, . The MKs were questioned after police arrested in mid-September over 20 Balad  officials and members, including senior party officials such as former secretary-general Awad Abd al-Fatah and members of Balad's political bureau and central committee. In addition, lawyers affiliated with the party were also questioned. The police searched a number of homes and offices of those arrested.