Adalah asks Knesset Committee not to Remove the Immunity of MK Dr. Azmi Bishara


On 30 October 2001, Adalah submitted a legal opinion to the Knesset House Committee, the Committee's legal advisor and Attorney General Elyakim Rubenstein asking the Knesset Committee not to remove the immunity of Member of the Knesset (MK) Dr. Azmi Bishara.


Adalah made its submission in response to a legal opinion submitted by the Attorney General to the Knesset Committee on 16 October 2000. In his opinion, and in meetings held with the Committee on 25 September and 30 October 2001, the Attorney General argued for the removal of Dr. Bishara's immunity, in order to indict him on charges of supporting a terrorist organization and assistance to illegal exit from the country. The charges are based on the Prevention of Terror Ordinance (1948) and Regulation 5 of the Emergency Regulations (Exiting the Country) (1948), respectively.


The charges refer to speeches given by Dr. Bishara in Syria on 10 June 2001 and in Umm al-Fahem, Israel, on 5 June 2000, in which he expressed support for Hezbollah's right to resist the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon. The charges also refer to visits organized by Dr. Bishara, whereby elderly Palestinian citizens of Israel traveled to Syria to visit relatives that they had not seen since 1948.


At the Knesset meetings, Dr. Bishara did not deny making any of the statements alleged by the Attorney General. Rather, he reaffirmed the content of his speeches in Syria and Umm al-Fahem, and his moral duty toward the elderly Palestinian citizens of Israel who took part in his visiting program.


The contested portion of Dr. Bishara's June 2001 speech, delivered at a memorial service in Kerdaha for the late Syrian President Hafaz al-Assad, read:


“The government of Israel is trying to shrink the realm [of resistance], by putting forth a choice: either accept Israel's dictates, or face full-scale war. Thus, it is impossible to continue with a third way, that of resistance, without expanding this realm once again so that the people can struggle and resist. Nor is it possible to expand this realm without a unified and internationally effective Arab political position. This is precisely the time for such a stance.”


In its legal opinion, Adalah presented several reasons why the Knesset Committee should uphold Dr. Bishara's immunity:


·        In Adalah's view, the Attorney General's approach to Dr. Bishara's case is selective and unbalanced, and not all of the facts in the case have been considered.

·        The Attorney General is attempting to remove Dr. Bishara's immunity in order to prosecute him for his political speech, an activity which is fundamental to his role as a public representative. The views expressed by Dr. Bishara in his speeches are consistent with the policies and platforms of his party, Balad.


·        One cannot understand Dr. Bishara's speech without understanding the reality of Israel's occupation of South Lebanon. The opinions expressed by Dr. Bishara about human rights violations during the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon are shared by a variety of international human rights experts. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch point to numerous violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by Israel in its occupation of South Lebanon. (For examples, see Persona Non Grata: The Expulsion of Civilians from Israeli-Occupied Lebanon on-line at and Robert Fisk, "Khiyam Jail: Where Torture is Routine and By Remote Control," The Independent, 20 May 2000). Nowhere in his statement does the Attorney General acknowledge the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon as such.


·        Dr. Bishara's speech is consistent with the internationally recognized right of peoples to struggle for liberation and self-determination. His defense of Hezbollah's right to resist the Israeli occupation finds support in United Nations declarations and conventions. The UN Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States (1970) asserts the right of persons to self-determination, and Article 1(4) of the First Protocol of the Geneva Convention affirms the right of resistance by force to foreign occupation.


Dr. Bishara is also charged with assistance to illegal exit from the country, in connection with visits made by Palestinian citizens of Israel to Syria without permits from the Ministry of Interior. As Adalah argues in its legal opinion, there is considerable evidence that the Ministry of Interior frequently uses such requests for permits as an opportunity to force the collaboration of applicants in government intelligence-gathering activities. Dr. Bishara's decision not to apply for permits reflected his desire to avoid exposing the elderly participants in the visiting program to this kind of coercion.


Given these considerations, it is clear that Dr. Bishara's actions warrant neither the removal of his immunity, nor his indictment.


The Knesset House Committee will vote on whether or not to lift Dr. Bishara's immunity on Monday, 5 November 2001.


See also Adalah's Press Release, No Legal Basis for Opening a Criminal Investigation Against MK Azmi Bishara - 14 June 2001