Three members of the Joint List—the third largest faction in Israel— were suspended from Knesset today for visiting the homes of East Jerusalem Palestinian families whose relatives carried out attacks against Israelis in recent weeks. Haneen Zoabi and Basel Ghattas will be barred from Knesset assembly sessions for four months, and Jamal Zahalka for two.
During the suspension the officials will still be able to vote.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sharply criticized the meetings with Palestinians last week and vowed to take legal action against the legislatures. On Monday he backed an amendment to Basic Law–Israel’s version of a constitution–that approved ousting representatives for “behavior inappropriate for their position as a member of the Knesset.”
“Members of Knesset who go to comfort the families of terrorists who murdered Israelis do not deserve to be in the Israeli Knesset. I have asked the Speaker of the Knesset to examine what steps can be taken against them,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
In response Zoabi posted on Facebook, “The real crime is in the detention of the bodies.”
Over the past four months as violence increased in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, the bodies of dozens of Palestinians who were killed by Israeli police in the course of attacks and alleged attacks were kept in Israeli morgues, at times for months. The returning of remains of West Bank residents takes place through a formal process with the Palestinian Authority. On December 31, 2015, Israel returned seven bodies to the Palestinian government, in exchange for a list of concessions that included limitations on the number of funeral attendees and a prohibition on autopsies. Three more were released over the weekend. Israel is expected to turn over an additional 10 in the coming days, again with conditions on limiting the size of funerals.
The exchange of bodies for assurances of small numbers of mourners is not without its uses for Israel. The restrictions were common practice during the second Intifada, when processions with thousands of bereaved often developed into large demonstrations against the Israeli military.
Yet for the bodies of East Jerusalem Palestinians there is no clear process or advocate. While the Palestinian Authority claims jurisdiction in practice they are banned from operating in Jerusalem. Zoabi’s party head Ayman Odeh said her visit was to fill the administrative gap and coordinate arrangements, rather than pay condolences or lend support to attacks against Israelis, as Netanyahu said.
“The purpose of the visit was to assist in coordinating the return of the remains of the Palestinians who were killed by Israeli security at the scenes,” Odeh said.
“We are strongly opposed to the Israeli government’s commerce in human bodies. Netanyahu and his ministers know full well what the meeting in East Jerusalem was about: this is a fundamental human issue. All human beings, horrendous as their crimes may be, should be allowed to be buried,” he continued.
For Zoabi the censure was proceeded by more legal troubles. She received a suspended jail sentence on Sunday for six months over a 2014 incident where she disparaged two police officers.
Two years ago Zoabi called officers standing guard “traitors” when exiting a Nazareth court following the hearing of constituents detained during a protest in the aftermath of the burning alive of 16-year old Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem that summer. The killing sparked waves of demonstrations across Israel and the West Bank. Zoabi later apologized for the comment, “My remarks came against a backdrop of harsh arrests,” even so her peers in Knesset probed the insult for incitement.