Jailed Arab-Israeli parliamentarian refused early relase on ‘terrorism’ grounds
Article RadarTHIS ARTICLE CONNECT:
A former parliamentarian has been denied early release by a court in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba on Wednesday for belonging to a terrorist organization.
Basel Ghattas, who is of Arab origin, was convicted in April 2017 of smuggling phones to Palestinian prisoners in a high-security Israeli jail, and was sentenced to two years imprisonment.
He was denied early release last year, after a court found he did not show enough remorse for his actions, according to a justice ministry statement.
Ghattas since applied for a rehabilitation program that might hasten his freedom – only to find out that his demand had been rejected, this time on grounds of belonging to a terrorist organization.
The Israel Prison Service alleges it has proof that Ghattas was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a terrorist outfit based in Syria and with links to Bashar al-Assad when he entered prison.
The group was linked to a number of violent terror incidents in Israel including the “Avivim school bus massacre” where 9 children and 3 adults were killed.
In the 1980’s the organization began working clandestinely with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed group in Lebanon, but reemerged as an independent group during the onset of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
This is the first time Israeli authorities make the claim, which Ghattas disputes.
According to Haaretz, the former MK got up in court and shouted “it’s a lie, it’s not true!” when he found out this was the reason for his delayed release.
“The burden of proof is on the prison service,” Ghattas’ attorney Abir Baker told the court.
The 61-year old is a Christian Arab from the north of Israel. A long-time activist in local politics, he was elected to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, on the Balad party list in 2015.
As an opposition politician, Ghattas was known for his frequent and forceful rebuttals of prime minister Netanyahu.
In December 2016, Ghattas was accused of smuggling phones, SIM cards and documents into the high security Ketziot prison, and handed them over to Palestinian detainees.
He allegedly used his parliamentary immunity to avoid being searched – and 12 mobile phones were found on two separate prisoners in searches after Ghattas’s visit.
Ghattas later said that his actions were motivated by his “humanitarian and moral positions towards prisoners and he is ready to assume full responsibility for it”.
Prisoners are not allowed phones in Israeli prisons, and despite the IPS sometimes keeping a blind eye to the practice, the smuggling of the devices is a frequent cause of tensions.
The Israeli-run military prison of Ofer is currently the theatre of riots after Israeli authorities cracked down on contraband phones, with several injured.
More than 1,000 Palestinians are repeatedly involved, with many going on hunger strike.