Police Arrest Israeli Arab Lawmaker After Parliamentary Immunity Lifted

Basel Ghattas, who agreed to waive his immunity, is suspected of smuggling smartphones to Palestinians in prison for security offenses.

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Basel Ghattas after being questioned by the police, December 20, 2016.
Basel Ghattas after being questioned by the police, December 20, 2016. Credit: Nir Keidar

MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List) was arrested Thursday, after his parliamentary immunity was lifted by the Knesset earlier in the day, amid allegations that he smuggled smartphones to Palestinian security prisoners.

Ghattas will spend the night in a detention center and he will be brought before a judge Friday morning. Ealrier, Ghattas asked the Knesset to lift his parliamentary immunity, saying he would not contest legislators' plan to revoke his immunity amid allegations that he smuggled smartphones to Palestinian security prisoners.

Ghattas’ decision came after consultations with lawyers and senior officials of his Balad party, one of the four factions of the Joint List of Arab parties. Speaker Yuli Edelstein said the Knesset would proceed accordingly.

The revocation would only apply to the allegations concerning the smartphones.

The party blasted his arrests as "unprecedented" political persecution, saying his arrest was a watershed moment in Israel's ties to its Arab citizens.

The possibility that Ghattas would submit such a request came up in Wednesday's meeting of the Knesset House Committee, which voted 15-0 to lift his immunity, a stance consistent with that of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

Ghattas' statement still has to read out in the full Knesset and approved there; the legislature is meeting on Thursday. Also, if Ghattas is detained, it is unclear if the police will be able to prevent him from voting in committees and the full Knesset.

“Is it enough to lift his immunity or should his membership be canceled, leaving his party to decide on its representatives?” asked MK Roy Folkman (Kulanu).

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