Arab-Israeli lawmakers suspended for meeting families of killed Palestinian

Published: February 9, 2016
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Hanin Zoabi, a legislator from the Joint Arab List, participates in a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin, in this October 13, 2015 file picture. PHOTO: REUTERS

Hanin Zoabi, a legislator from the Joint Arab List, participates in a pro-Palestinian demonstration in the northern Israeli town of Sakhnin, in this October 13, 2015 file picture. PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM: Three Arab-Israeli lawmakers were suspended on Monday from speaking in parliament as punishment for supporting families of Palestinian killed by security forces after they attacked Israelis.

The Knesset Ethics Committee ruled that Balad party members Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas would be barred from plenum and committee business for four months and Jamal Zahalka two months suspension but they will be able to vote.

Last week, the three visited the families of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces in incidents, including one on a bus in Jerusalem last year in which three people were killed.

They were accused of standing as a mark of respect for the attackers, but Zahalka denied this and said they were praying.

Tensions between Jews and Arabs in Israel have risen since a wave of stabbings, shootings and car-rammings carried out mainly by Palestinians has killed 27 Israelis and a U.S. citizen since October.

A few Arab Israelis have also carried out attacks. In the same period, Israeli forces have killed at least 156 Palestinians, 101 of them assailants, authorities say. Most of the others died during violent protests.

The bloodshed has been partly fuelled by Palestinian frustration over long-stalled peace talks and anger at perceived Jewish encroachment on a contested Jerusalem shrine.

The three legislators faced the hearing after other lawmakers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and hundreds of members of the public complained to parliament and accused the three of disloyalty to the state.

“We are not prepared to accept a situation where Knesset members support the families of those who murdered Israeli civilians and stand to attention to the memory of those who murdered our children,” Netanyahu said in parliament.

Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit has also called for a police investigation against the three. The left-wing Balad party is part of the Joint Arab List, a conglomeration of four factions that holds 13 seats in the 120-member Knesset. Balad members are particularly vocal in supporting Palestinian causes.

Zahalka told the Knesset television channel news that the suspension was “a political price for our moral stand, but we are prepared to pay this price.” Israel’s Arabs have accused Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition of anti-Arab bias.

Netanyahu drew widespread international condemnation after making a rallying call to his supporters on election day last year to rush to the polls because Arabs were being bussed “in droves” to vote. He later apologised for the remark.

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