Photo: Alex Kolomoisky
MK Basel Ghattas
Photo: Alex Kolomoisky

Knesset committee votes to strip Ghattas of immunity rights

House Committee recommends to strip MK Basel Ghattas of MK immunity rights. If Knesset approves the decision on Thursday, the police will be authorized to arrest him over phone-smuggling investigation.

The Knesset's House Committee on Wednesday afternoon unanimously approved a request by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to strip MK Basel Ghattas (Joint List) of immunity afforded to all MKs, in light of an ongoing investigation against him over suspicions that he smuggled 12 cellphones to Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails.



After a meeting that lasted for more than an hour, 15 members of the committee voted in favor of removing Ghattas’s immunity rights while none voted against it.


Ghattas now has 24 hours to announce that he is renouncing his immunity. If he fails to do so, the Knesset will convene on Thursday afternoon to vote on the matter. If the Knesset does indeed adopt the recommendations of the committee, the police will be authorized to arrest Ghattas.


MK Basel Ghattas
MK Basel Ghattas


Deputy Attorney General Raz Nazari explained that the AG's request to strip Ghattas of immunity is unusual. "For the first time, the attorney general is asking to remove an MK's immunity while the investigation is still ongoing. There is solid evidence to support the suspicions."


However, Knesset Legal Advisor Eyal Yinon pointed out that Ghattas will continue to serve as an MK and will still be able to participate in Knesset votes.


“As you know, he isn't the only MK in the history of the State of Israel to be under investigation. Obviously, if he is arrested he cannot participate in the Knesset meetings,” Yinon said. “(But) he has every right to participate in discussions and votes, including getting paid.”


Yinon explained the decision to strip Ghattas of his immunity can only be done by the Knesset, while the committee is only empowered to recommend that course of action.


The immunity in question protects the MK from search warrants and arrests but not from indictment.


The committee meeting was tumultuous, with several MKs being removed from the chamber. MKs from Yesh Atid, who decided to oppose efforts to dismiss Ghattas from the Knesset, protested against comments made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that party leader Yair Lapid "was a leftist." This led to an argument breaking out between Yesh Atid and MKs from Netanyahu's party, the Likud.


The Knesset's House Committee discussing Ghattas (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
The Knesset's House Committee discussing Ghattas (Photo: Gil Yohanan)


At the outset of the meeting, committee chairman Yoav Kish (Likud) stressed that “I will keep the discussion topical and not litigious. This bears significant consequences and we will deal with it accordingly.”


During the meeting, Deputy Attorney General Nazari explained that Ghattas's actions were documented on video. "This documentation is important evidence in the ongoing investigation," he said.


The video shows Ghattas's meeting with the two prisoners, during which "four envelopes are removed from his coat pocket and one of the prisoner is seen putting them in his pants. The prisoner was searched and four envelopes with cell phones and SIM cards were found. MK Ghattas refused to be questioned at the scene."


Some of the phones Ghattas was caught smuggling into prison.
Some of the phones Ghattas was caught smuggling into prison.


Ghattas was also documented in another instance passing papers to Walid Daka, who is serving a life sentence for his involvement in the abduction and murder of IDF soldier Moshe Tamam.


Nazari went on to say that "Ghattas is suspected of serious offenses. Violating the Israel Prison Service's (IPS) orders can lead to up to three years' imprisonment, and the attempt to aid a terror organization—ten years."


In his request to the committee, Attorney General Mandelblit said Ghattas denied in his questioning that he had brought anything into the prison to give to the prisoners. It was only after the video documenting him doing so was shown to him that he admitted to passing on the envelopes, but claimed he didn't know they contained cellphones.


Ghattas, Mandelblit said, admitted to passing on papers to Daka—despite being aware this was against IPS procedures—but claimed that the papers included "political material" pertaining to his party, Balad.


Ghattas arrived at the Israel Police's Anti-Fraud Unit Lahav 433 in Lod for questioning on Tuesday morning where he was asked about the incident for four hours.


Shortly before entering into the building, Ghattas denied any wrongdoing, instead accusing the establishment of targeting him. “I go out with my head raised high...This is all a political witch hunt,” Ghattas protested. “Everything is alright. We have gotten used to investigations of these sorts. It is all intended to harm our struggle. The moment I leave the investigation, I will explain things clearly.”




פרסום ראשון: 12.21.16, 15:53
 new comment
See all talkbacks "Knesset committee votes to strip Ghattas of immunity rights"
This will delete your current comment