Brother of Senior Hamas Member Gets Plea Deal From Israel in Return for Information

Bilal Ghazaineh gets three years for Hamas activities; Shin Bet says he gave them much information on organization

Hamas militants attend the funeral of a 16-year-old Palestinian in centre Gaza Strip January 12, 2018.   REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS

The brother of a senior Hamas official has been sentenced to three years in prison for various terrorism-related offenses.

Because of his brother’s role with Hamas, the state had once hoped that Bilal Ghazaineh could also serve as a bargaining chip for the return of one of the missing and slain Israelis thought to be held by Hamas in in the Gaza Strip. But Hamas reportedly rejected an Israeli proposal for a swap that would include his return.

To really understand Israel and the Middle East - subscribe to Haaretz

Ghazaineh, who suffers from mental health problems, was sentenced in a plea bargain that was upheld by the Be’er Sheva District Court two weeks ago. In light of time already served, and assuming he receives the usual one-third off for good behavior, he is expected to be released at the end of this year.

The original indictment against Ghazaineh, filed in Decemeber 2016, contained seven counts, including membership in a terrorist organization, recruiting for a terrorist organization, weapons offenses and engaging in illegal military training. The amended indictment submitted as part of the plea bargain included only two counts: that he taught religious classes organized by Hamas, and that he twice did guard duty for Hamas, armed with an assault rifle and hand grenades. On account of these, he was convicted of membership in a terrorist organization, recruiting for a terrorist organization and weapons offenses.

Ghazaineh was arrested on November 27, 2016 as he crossed the border from Gaza into Israel. He was interrogated by the Shin Bet security service, which later said he had divulged a great deal of information about Hamas’ tunnel digging and its use of civilian houses in Gaza for terrorist activity.

Ghazaineh is the younger brother of Mustafa Ghazaineh, who heads Hamas’ internal security service in northern Gaza. The Shin Bet said the younger Ghazaineh sometimes served as his brother’s “escort.”

In February 2017, Israel Radio reported that Israel had proposed swapping Ghazaineh for one of the Israelis held in Gaza, but Hamas rejected the offer. It told the mediator it opposed any one-to-one swap of a single individual; it wanted “a complete deal or none at all.”

Ghazaineh is in poor mental health, and at one point during his trial, a psychiatrist declared him unfit to stand trial. His defense attorney said he tried to commit suicide in jail.

But his situation stabilized after several months in a hospital, and his trial resumed. The prosecution said his mental health problems are one reason why it agreed to the plea bargain.