Netanyahu Calls for Punitive Measures Against Arab MKs Who Visited Families of Terrorists

The lawmakers met with families of Palestinian assailants who are seeking the return of their bodies, which are being held by Israeli authorities.

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Joint List lawmakers Haneen Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas.
Joint List lawmakers Haneen Zoabi, Jamal Zahalka and Basel Ghattas.Credit: Noam Moskowitz
Jack Khoury
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approached Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein on Thursday to examine the possiblity of taking punitive measures against three Israeli Arab lawmakers who met this week with the families of Palestinian terrorists from Jerusalem.

"Knesset members who pay a condolence call to families of terrorists who have killed Israelis are not fit to serve in the Israeli Knesset," the prime minister said in a statement.

The visit by MKs Jamal Zakalka, Basel Ghattas and Haneen Zoabi from the Joint Arab List's Balad faction was part of a campaign being conducted by the families and legal aid and human rights groups seeking the return of the bodies of their family members who were killed in the course of attacks and were now being held by Israeli authorities .

The opposition Zionist Union joined in on condemning the visit. "The visit by Balad Knesset members to the terrorists' families encourages continued terrorism and murder of innocent people," the party stated.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has said the bodies have not been handed over because the families have not met conditions imposed by the Israel Police to ensure that the funerals for the terrorists pass peacefully.

Lawyers Mohammad Mahmoud of the Admir legal center and Suhad Bishara from the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel stated at the meeting that the legal aspects of the matter of Israel's continued custody of the bodies had reached deadlock. They claimed that Erdan was seeking to punish the families by withholding the bodies.

But Knesset member Ghattas told Haaretz on Thursday evening that Erdan had been aware that MKs from Balad had been dealing with the issue of the return of the bodies and had held two meetings with him at the Knesset, on Monday and Wednesday of this week, Erdan even asked for more information about the families, Ghattas said.

For his part, however, Erdan has now called on Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to examine whether the meeting that the Knesset members had with the families constituted a criminal offense -- providing support for acts of murder and terror.

Explaining his stance on the return of the bodies, Erdan said they will not be released until the demands of the police "designed to ensure that the funeral[s] are not turned into a show of incitement and support for terrorism" are met. "Instead of working [to achieve] this, the Arab Knesset members have done precisely the opposite," Erdan added.

At the meeting with the Balad Knesset members, the families called the withholding of the bodies a step aimed at nothing other than inflicting distress. The MKs promised they would work with Israeli decision makers to have the bodies returned. As part of their campaign, the family members also met this week with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Knesset speaker Edelstein said the Israeli Arab lawmakers' actions constituted incitement to murder. "It is unthinkable that while innocent civilians are being slaughtered in Israel's streets, Knesset members console and give voice to the murders' families. I view this as a severe assault on the Knesset and the state of Israel," he said, adding that Israel's Supreme Court justices should remember these incidents when debating petitions against barring the Israeli Arab politicians from running for Knesset.

For his part, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the head of the Habayit Hayehudi party, called on the Arab public to condemn the Knesset members' meeting with the families, adding that there "will be no unity among us" if parliamentarians meet "with our murders."

In a separate statement, Zionist Union Knesset member Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin said: "The Knesset members are, with their own hands, cutting the last threads that still connect them to Israeli society. Instead of taking advantage of their status to bridge the gaps, with their own hands, they are digging the deepening hole of hate."

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