Magistrate Court Decides not to Convict MK Azmi Bishara's Former Parliamentary Assistants Stating that Assisting Arab Relatives' Visits to Syria was Undertaken for Humanitarian Purposes


After four years of proceedings, on 22 December 2005, the Nazareth Magistrate decided not to convict Mr. Mousa Diab and Mr. Ashraf Qurtam, former parliamentary aides of MK Azmi Bishara, the leader of the National Democratic Assembly party-Balad. The two assistants were criminally charged with MK Bishara in November 2001 with assisting elderly Palestinian citizens of Israel to travel to Syria – defined as an enemy state under Israeli law – to visit their refugee relatives. In lieu of conviction, the Court sentenced Mr. Diab and Mr. Qurtam to a symbolic punishment of 200-300 hours of community service.

The Court stated that its decision is based, inter alia, on "the fact that the purpose of their actions was to serve a humanitarian goal of the highest level, namely giving the opportunity for these elderly [citizens] who went to meet their relatives that left [Israel] in 1948, and on the fact that the deeds of the accused did not, actually, caused any harm to the state or its security, while this remained a merely potential hazard."

The Court delivered its decision in this case four years after MK Bishara and his former aides were indicted for this mandatory-era emergency law offense. In April 2003, the Court dismissed the indictment against MK Bishara, ruling that he could not charged under these regulations, due to the fact that he has parliamentary immunity. At that time, the Court kept the indictments pending against Mr. Diab and Mr. Qurtam as they were not exempt under the law. Following the Court's decision, Adalah Attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Abeer Baker, on behalf of Mr. Diab and Mr. Qurtam, approached the Attorney General requesting that he withdraw the indictments against them in the interests of justice. The Attorney General refused that request.

The State Prosecutor's Office maintained throughout the proceedings that the parliamentary aides should be convicted, due to the severity of the accusations against them. Adalah asked the Court not to find them guilty, since their deeds were motivated by humanitarian concerns, and they are not criminals who should face grave punishment.