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Israeli court convicts former MK Basel Ghattas of phone smuggling charges

March 22, 2017 10:48 P.M. (Updated: March 23, 2017 2:50 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- An Israeli court convicted recently resigned Knesset member Basel Ghattas on Wednesday of a number of charges related to his smuggling phones to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody.

The charges against Ghattas included "providing means for performing an act of terror, smuggling electronic equipment into a prison and transferring it to prisoners, transferring letters prohibited according to the Prison's Law, and offenses of fraud and breach of trust," according to Israeli news outlet Arutz Sheva.

A plea bargain -- which will see Ghattas, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, resign from the Knesset, spend two years in prison, and be given an additional two-year suspended sentence -- was submitted by the prosecution during the hearing in front of the Beersheba magistrate court. A prosecution representative said that the Israeli Supreme Court had rejected an appeal against the plea bargain.

The Beersheba court judge postponed issuing a final ruling against Ghattas to April 9.

Ghattas was seen on video in December passing envelopes to Palestinian inmates -- one of whom was Walid Daka, who is serving a life sentence for his involvement as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in the 1984 kidnapping and killing of Israeli army soldier Moshe Tamam -- during a visit to Ktziot prison.

According to prisoners' rights group Addameer, 6,500 Palestinians were imprisoned by Israel as of January. Any correspondence with Palestinian prisoners can be considered an act against the security of the state of Israel, making it dangerous for both Palestinian citizens of Israel and those holding Jerusalem permits to engage with Palestinians held by Israel.

Prosecution representative Yoav Kishon said that the charges Ghattas had confessed to were a “felony against the state's security.” However, Ghattas has defended his actions as stemming from “conscientious, personal motives and humanitarian feelings toward the prisoners,” Arutz Sheva reported, and denounced the “aggressive and racist incitement campaign” against him since the charges first emerged.

Ghattas officially submitted his resignation from the Knesset on Sunday, after serving for four years as a member of the Balad party.

The Knesset has focused on Ghattas’ case, the first of its kind dealing with the ousting of a sitting lawmaker since Israel passed a highly contentious law last summer allowing the Knesset to oust a lawmaker for “incitement to racism” and “support of armed struggle against the state of Israel.”

Members of the Arab Joint List -- the political bloc which represents parties led by Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Knesset -- as well as left-wing Israeli politicians, have criticized the law, saying it targets Palestinians lawmakers deemed to be “inciting” against Israel’s interests.

Critics have said Ghattas’ case represents the latest event in a concerted crackdown on Joint List MKs in an attempt to squelch opposition to the Israeli government’s right-wing policies in the occupied Palestinian territory, commonly resting on allegations of “incitement” or supporting “terrorism."
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