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Former Knesset member Basel Ghattas begins 2-year prison sentence

July 2, 2017 1:55 P.M. (Updated: July 2, 2017 11:02 P.M.)
Basel Ghattas (front left) before entering prison on July 2, 2017 (Source: Ghattas' public Facebook profile)
JERUSALEM (Ma’an) -- After being convicted in an Israeli court in March on a number of charges related to his smuggling phones to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody, now resigned Knesset member Basel Ghattas entered the first day of a two-year prison sentence on Sunday.

In a statement outside of Israel's Gilboa prison, Ghattas, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, said he “acted for humanitarian reasons and on behalf of the prisoners,” Israeli daily Haaretz reported.

“In the past two months I have enjoyed time with my family and with many of my people and supporters, who have given me great strength ahead of this time -- which is, of course, a difficult time on a personal level. At a later stage I intend to demand that my punishment be eased. I hope this demand will be met and that I will not serve the full term.”

He wrote on his public Facebook profile earlier Monday morning: “I will enter prison with my head held high thanks to your support. I will meet you when released from prison with the pride and dignity of a victor. Goodbye.”

A video shared by Palestinian news outlet al-Quds Network showed Ghattas on a bus en route to prison, in which he said he was "full of confidence" upon joining “the national struggle in occupation jails."

"When I am released, I will continue on the road of liberation," he said.

Arriving outside the prison, Jamal Zahalka, who, as was Ghattas, is a member of the Joint List coalition that represents Palestinian citizens of Israel at the Knesset, lauded Ghattas for "exposing the issue of political prisoners. He exposed the problem that is always in the backyard of everyday public discourse and that is important in and of itself,” Israeli news site Ynet quoted him as saying.

“We don’t want to smuggle cellphones,” he Zahalka continued. “Our issue is that prisoners are given the right to use public cellphones like any other prisoner.”

MK Hanin Zoabi of the Joint List was also quoted in the reported as saying: “We are separating from Basel for two years but we are not separating from our struggle to safeguard the rights of political prisoners. Basel did not flee responsibility, he is paying the price and he deserves respect."

In his March plea bargain, Ghattas was convicted of fraud and breach of trust, “providing means to carry out terror acts,” smuggling electronic equipment into prison, and delivering a forbidden document.

Ghattas also resigned from the Knesset after serving for four years as a member of the Balad party.

An Israeli magistrate court in Beersheba approved the plea bargain in April, under which Ghattas was given the two-year prison term, 18 months’ probation, and a 120,000-shekel ($34,000) fine. The court also defined his offenses as “moral turpitude.”

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.

Any correspondence with Palestinian prisoners -- numbered at some 6,200 -- 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.

Ghattas’ case was 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 Joint List, 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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