Benjamin Netanyahu claimed not so long ago that Palestinian citizens of Israel have “equal rights and equal duties.” The markedly different way that he and a Palestinian lawmaker have been treated over the past few weeks exposes how dishonest that claim was.
Despite being under investigation for alleged corruption, Netanyahu has been able to continue serving as Israel’s prime minister. A bill aimed at protecting him from further probes has even been drafted by a representative of Likud, the largest government party.
The accusation that Ghattas smuggled cell phones to Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails has led to him being suspended from the Knesset for six months.
Under a law which entered into force during 2016, elected representatives may be kicked out of the Knesset if a vote is approved by 90 of its members. Adalah, a group representing Palestinians in Israel, has complained that the law enables members of the Knesset to club together so they can conduct “field-style court martials” against political opponents.
Ghattas has argued that Netanyahu and other senior figures in the Israeli government “want a photo of an Arab MK [member of Knesset] in handcuffs.”
The allegations that have been made in public against Ghattas indicate that he is being persecuted simply because he tried to assist Palestinian prisoners.
Bizra is a member of Fatah, one of the largest Palestinian parties, and has previously been a spokesperson for Fatah prisoners.
Cell phones cannot be considered weapons or as dangerous items. The idea that bringing modern communications to people locked away by an apartheid state could be a serious crime – or anything more than an administrative offense – is risible.
The United Nations has explicitly recognized that prisoners have the right to communicate with the outside world. If Ghattas did indeed smuggle cell phones to prisoners, then he was arguably defending their basic rights.
Yet Israel’s political hierarchy has rushed to depict Ghattas as a felon. First, a committee in the Knesset voted to strip him of his immunity from prosecution last month. That paved the way for his arrest on 22 December.
“This is just one more proof that the Joint List is in fact the joint list of spies and traitors,” Lieberman wrote on Facebook.
Danger to public?
Last week, the Israeli government formally indicted Ghattas. The charges against him include deceit and breach of trust by a public servant and aggravated fraud.
The Israeli state has also appealed against a recent court ruling that Ghattas may be released from house arrest. According to Israeli prosecutors, there is a suspicion Ghattas could “endanger public safety.”
The treatment of Ghattas is part of a series of attempts to disenfranchise Palestinian citizens of Israel.
The Joint List against which Lieberman has thundered was actually established in response to such disenfranchisement.
In 2014, the Knesset raised the electoral threshold required for a party to win representation. The new criteria forced a union among Palestinian-led parties, galvanizing Palestinian voters and leading the Joint List to win the third largest share of seats in the Knesset in the 2015 general election.
Ghattas is not the first Palestinian lawmaker to be suspended from the Knesset. In 2014, Haneen Zoabi was banned for six months for alleged “incitement.”
The hierarchy decided to punish her over remarks she made in a radio interview about the kidnapping of three Israeli youths, who were later found dead. Zoabi made clear that she disapproved of the kidnapping but declined to describe it as “terrorism.”
While Palestinian lawmakers can be chastised simply for expressing their views, Jewish Israeli politicians may defend serious human rights abuses without fear of censure.
A day before Israel indicted Ghattas last week, Benjamin Netanyahu supported calls for the pardoning of an Israeli soldier who shot dead an injured Palestinian.
That Netanyahu suffered no consequences underscores the absurdity of his professed commitment to equal rights.
Additional research by Charlotte Silver.