Accused of supporting Palestinian political prisoners: MK Basel Ghattas jailed, stripped of immunity

Basel Ghattas, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and Member of Knesset, is currently being held by Israeli forces on charges of attempting to bring cellphones to imprisoned Palestinians denied the ability to communicate with their families or political organizations. Ghattas has frequently visited with imprisoned Palestinians, including Palestinians from ’48, long-time prisoners held since the pre-Oslo era, and Palestinian political leaders.

Palestinian prisoners are routinely denied access to communications, whether with their families or their colleagues and comrades. Unlike Israeli criminal prisoners, they are denied access to telephone calls with their family members and can only receive short visits through a glass wall. Family visits are regularly denied under a pretext of “security.” In addition, many Palestinian political prisoners are leaders of the Palestinian movement, targeted for their leadership and political role. The denial of their communications and isolation of these prisoners is an Israeli attempt to silence and disrupt the Palestinian national liberation movement.

On Thursday, 22 December, Israeli authorities announced that Ghattas was being stripped of his parliamentary immunity and had been detained; his arrest was extended until four days until Monday, 26 December on the grounds of “security of the state.” The further extension of his detention will be considered at the Rishon Letzion court at 4:00 pm, while a protest will gather outside organized by Palestinian political groups in ’48 Palestine demanding his immediate release.

Ghattas emphasized following a three-hour interrogation session – before his arrest –  that the Palestinian prisoners are human beings first and foremost and that he has always acted to support the prisoners as a humanitarian and moral manner, emphasizing the suffering and isolation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and the importance of highlighting the cause of the prisoners.

Ghattas’ detention is being pursued on the pretext that he “poses a risk to the security” of the state or its citizens. His political party, Balad or the National Democratic Aliance (NDA), has engaged in a series of protests demanding Ghattas’ freedom from this “political targeting.”  Awad Abdel Fattah said that “This arrest is a continuation of the political persecution of our leadership, our people in general, and the national movement.” MK Jamal Zahalka said that “Despite all borders and laws, he has acted only to help his imprisoned people. We refuse to take the issue of prisoners for granted.”

Ghattas visited Palestinian prisoners Walid Daqqa and Basel al-Bisra in the Ketziot Negev prison last week; he is accused of bringing them several cell phones. While Israeli officials also claimed that he had brought “encrypted messages” to the prisoners, Ghattas and his lawyer Lea Tsemel noted – as was confirmed even by the judge in the case on Friday, 23 December – that these were the political documents and publications of the Balad party and “not a security matter.” Daqqa has spent over 30 years in Israeli prison.

Ghattas noted that the decision to pursue him and strip his immunity was clearly a political action, as other members of Knesset had not had their immunity stripped despite charges of rape, harassment, theft, embezzlement and bribery, including people who were later convicted and sentenced.

In addition to the arrest of Ghattas – which follows on a series of arrests and raids that targeted the NDA’s political activities – and the repression of Palestinian organizing in Palestine ’48, the Israeli state is also attempting to further isolate Palestinian prisoners. On Tuesday, 20 December, the Knesset approved a bill by Internal Security minister Gilad Erdan to prevent MKs from visiting Palestinian security prisoners, obviously targeting MKs who are Palestinian citizens of Israel. Erdan openly spoke to his motivations, saying that “these visits provide a popular platform for the prisoners…and thus impact the security of the state.”

Palestinian lawyer Jehad Abu Raya wrote that “The detentions and harassment of Palestinians and their leaders in 1948 Palestine, including the Knesset member Basel Ghattas, are part of a strategy which Israel has pursed against its Arab citizens since the Nakba. This strategy is aimed at domesticating and defeating Palestinians and at punishing whomever is tempted to challenge the Jewish state.”  He noted the ongoing imprisonment of Palestinians in ’48, including Sheikh Raed Salah and former MK Said Nafaa.

Ghattas also participated in the third Freedom Flotilla to break the siege on Gaza. In response to the arrest of Ghattas, the Freedom Flotilla Coalition issued a statement highlighting the isolation and silencing of Palestinian prisoners and calling for phones to be distributed to Palestinian prisoners. “The Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails…are entitled to their basic right of communication with their loved ones. If the system does not allow it, civil disobedience is the only route.”

Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network demands the immediate release of Basel Ghattas and all Palestinian political prisoners. The political persecution of Ghattas is another attempt to suppress Palestinian organizing and existence in Palestine ’48 and to isolate and cut the communications of Palestinian political prisoners. It is part and parcel of the campaign of isolation and silence waged by the Israeli occupation against over 7,000 Palestinian political prisoners.