Arab-Israeli lawmaker gives up parliamentary immunity over smuggled cellphones

Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Arab-Israeli lawmaker who called his alleged smuggling of cellphones to Palestinian terrorists in Israel prisons “humanitarian activism” agreed to give up his parliamentary immunity for an investigation into his actions.

The Israeli Knesset had already scheduled a debate and vote on stripping Ghattas of his parliamentary immunity for Thursday afternoon. Ghattas’ agreement to voluntarily give it up led to the session’s cancellation. Ghattas is a member of Balad, one of the parties that make up the Arab Joint List.

The Knesset House Committee had already voted unanimously Wednesday to revoke the privilege.

He was captured on a video surveillance camera passing cellphones to two Palestinian security prisoners in Ketziot Prison on Sunday.

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Ghattas had at first denied passing the cellphones; after being shown the video he reportedly admitted it.

“My visits to the prisoners are part of my humanitarian and moral activism,” he said, according to Channel 2, after he was questioned on Tuesday. “The prisoners are suffering under difficult conditions, and dealing with this issue is part of my public and parliamentary work, which I am carrying out responsibly. I have nothing to hide. We are entering and leaving these interrogations with our heads held high.”

The Knesset House Committee on Tuesday put a blanket ban on Israeli lawmakers visiting prisoners in jail for security crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, after the Shin Bet security service recommended the action.