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Suspended Palestinian MKs slam Netanyahu's 'incitement'

Feb. 9, 2016 3:03 P.M. (Updated: Feb. 9, 2016 7:26 P.M.)
Palestinian Member of the Knesset Hanin Zoabi has been suspended from her duties for a period of four months. (AFP/File)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- Three Palestinian members of the Knesset condemned on Tuesday their suspension from the Israeli parliament, branding it the result of "incitement" by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Monday, the Knesset's Ethics Committee suspended MKs Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas from plenary sessions and committee hearings for a period of four months and MK Jamal Zahalqa for two months, according to a Knesset statement.

The three lawmakers -- all Palestinian citizens of Israel and members of the Joint Arab List -- would still be able to vote in the plenum and in committees.

Netanyahu personally led efforts to have them ousted after the three parliamentarians visited the families of Palestinians who were killed after attacking Israelis.

The prime minister, together with Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, filed personal complaints against the lawmakers with the committee.

Zoabi, Zahalqa, and Ghattas said their visit was a bid to challenge Israel's controversial policy of withholding the bodies of Palestinians killed after carrying out attacks on Israelis.

Zahalqa said his colleagues' suspension was a "political decision that came after Netanyahu's incitement against us."

"Netanyahu has affected the entire political map and the committee subjected to his orders," he added. "We know that we are paying a political price for our humanitarian stance, but we insist on the immediate release of the bodies."

Israel began withholding the bodies of Palestinian attackers following a surge in violence at the beginning of October, but the policy has caused outcry among Palestinians and been branded "collective punishment" by rights groups.

'A racist atmosphere'

In addition to the three MKs’ immediate suspension, a draft bill was submitted Monday to the Knesset's Law and Justice Committee that could see MKs suspended from their duties if voted for by 90 MKs -- three quarters of Israel's lawmakers.

If approved by the committee, the bill could be passed into law as early as next week.

Ghattas said that "the bill was taken by a political committee which turned itself into a tool serving the prime minister, who is the biggest inciter against Arabs and the number one racist in this country.”

Zoabi concurred, saying that the approval of the bill was "known in advance, as it is a result of Netanyahu's incitement in a racist atmosphere and with a racist majority in this committee.”

Zoabi added that the bill also "revealed the face of the left" in Israel, as the Zionist left-wing party Meretz also came out in support of it.

Zoabi added that the suspension was a "big political price, but it is decent when we are serving our public in civil and national causes with devotion."

"The bill will not stop us," she added.

Deep rift in Israeli society

The Joint Arab List, a coalition of Palestinian-majority political parties in Israel, of which all three MKs are members, also condemned the measure, calling the Knesset Ethics Committee’s decision "vengeful, despotic and racist" in a statement on Monday.

"Meeting with families who demand the bodies of their children is a humanitarian, political, moral and patriotic activity," the statement read.

Joint List head Ayman Odeh said that Palestinian politicians with Israeli citizenship "will continue to support the just struggle of the Palestinian people against occupation in order to establish an independent Palestinian state."

The push against the Palestinian MKs has laid bare a deep rift in Israeli society, in which rights groups say Palestinians -- constituting a fifth of Israel's population -- have faced systematic exclusion for decades.

The Joint Arab List was formed last year when four Palestinian parties joined to fight for the rights of Israel's Palestinian minority, but they have faced staunch resistance from Israel's political establishment.

Zoabi had previously been suspended from the Knesset for joining the flotilla trying to break the siege on the Gaza Strip in 2010.

She was also suspended for six months in 2014 for alleged incitement, after she said that said she "understood" the conditions that led Palestinian to kidnap and murder three Israeli teenagers, even if she did not agree with the act.
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