Palestinian former MK Basel Ghattas released from Israeli prison

Palestinian former MK Basel Ghattas released from Israeli prison
2 min read
27 May, 2019
Former Knesset member Basel Ghattas was sentenced to two years in prison in 2017 after admitting to smuggling mobile phones and SIM cards to Palestinian political prisoners.
Ghattas denied trying to undermine state security by smuggling phones into prison [AFP]

Palestinian former MK Basel Ghattas, convicted two years ago of smuggling mobile phones to Palestinian political prisoners, was on Monday released from prison, local media reported.

Ghattas, a Palestinian citizen of Israel from the northern town of Rameh, served as a member of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) for Palestinian-majority party Balad until 2017, when he was imprisoned over the smuggling scandal.

The former politician was sentenced to two years in prison including time served, as well as a further 18 month suspended sentence and a 120,000 shekels ($32,890) fine, on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and providing "material support for the perpetuation of an act of terror" after smuggling a letter and cellphones to Palestinian prisoner.

He was also found guilty of "moral turpitude", a charge that in Israel carries economic sanctions, including the cancellation of state benefits to which former MKs are entitled, and a ban from public office for seven years.

That sentence came as part of a plea bargain in which Ghattas admitted to handing over phones and SIM cards to inmates, actions which he said were motivated by "humanitarian and moral positions towards prisoners".

He had initially denied the charges, describing his arrest as political persecution.

Shortly before entering prison, the former MK said: "I enter prison with my head held high and I will continue my battle for prisoners' rights."

Ghattas had requested an early release but was denied referral to a prisoner rehabilitation programme after Israel’s prison service accused him of being a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which Israel considers a terrorist organisation.

The former MK denies being a PFLP member.

Ghattas admitted two years ago to smuggling phones, SIM cards, chargers and a pair of headphones into a high security prison on the request of Walid Daka, a PFLP member who participated in the abduction and killing of IDF soldier Moshe Tamam more than three decades ago.

While Ghattas admitted to the charges, Palestinians say numerous other cases of fraud, money laundering and material support for terrorist organisations filed against Balad Party representatives are symptomatic of anti-Palestinian incitement and an ongoing campaign against the movement.

According to Israeli NGO B'tselem, there are currently 5,132 Palestinian "security" prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons, around a third of whom are held in administrative detention.