Israel has banned the radical northern branch of the Islamic Movement, charging it with links to terrorist groups and inciting the recent wave of violence, the cabinet announced early Tuesday.
“Any person who belongs to this organization or who provides services to it or who acts within its framework is henceforth committing a criminal offense punishable by a prison sentence,” a cabinet statement said. The move also allows for the confiscation of all property belonging to the group.
The northern branch of the Islamic Movement rejects the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians and boycotts national elections on the grounds that they give legitimacy to the institutions of the Jewish state.
The government accused the group of stoking a wave of violence across Israel and the West Bank that has left 12 Israelis dead since October 1. Eighty-two Palestinians have been killed, including dozens who were targeted while carrying out attacks.
After the security cabinet declared the movement illegal in a meeting late Monday night, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon signed an edict banning any activity connected to the group.
Israeli security forces then carried out a series of overnight raids on the organization’s offices, seizing computers, documents and cash in regional branches across the country, the Israel Police and Shin Bet security agency said. Police also froze bank accounts linked to the organization and a number of NGOs working alongside it.
In total, 17 regional branches were ordered closed, including offices in Umm al-Fahm, Jaffa, Nazareth, Kfar Kana, Turan, Beersheba and Rahat.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the decision was made “following a series of in-depth discussions with all relevant legal and security elements.
“The goal is to stop the dangerous incitement at home and prevent harm to innocent life. My government will continue to act as necessary against incitement and terrorism,” he said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the decision gave law-enforcement officials more tools to counter incitement.
“It is time that we use all the apparatuses at the state’s disposal to combat terrorism and those who incite it,” Erdan said. He described the move as representative of global efforts to stem Islamic terrorism, particularly in the wake of a wave of attacks in Paris on Friday that left 129 dead.
“The State of Israel must set an example and spearhead the fight against radical Islam, whose emissaries we saw slaughtering innocents in Paris, New York, Madrid and Israel,” he said. “The Islamic Movement, Hamas, the Islamic State and other [Islamist] organizations have a common ideological platform that is the cause for terrorist attacks around the world and the wave of terror in this country.”
Ya’alon, the defense minister, also accused the group of responsibility for the latest wave of violence.
“The Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement is endangering the security of the State of Israel and collaborating, according to intelligence we have collected, with Palestinian terror organizations, including Hamas, in order to inflame the current situation and encourage violence,” he said.
Founded in the 1970s, the Islamic Movement is a political organization, religious outreach group and social service provider rolled into one. The movement’s overarching goal is to make Israeli Muslims more religious and owes much of its popularity to providing services often lacking in Israel’s Arab communities. Today the group runs kindergartens, colleges, health clinics, mosques and even a sports league – sometimes under the same roof.
The movement split two decades ago. The more moderate southern branch began fielding candidates for Israel’s Knesset in 1996 and is now part of the Joint List, an alliance of several Arab-Israeli political parties. Three of the Joint List’s 13 current Knesset members are part of the movement. The more hardline northern branch rejects any legitimization of Israel’s government and has called on its adherents to boycott elections.
The movement also funds a group called the Mourabitun, whose protests against Jewish visitors at the Temple Mount have occasionally turned violent. On September 9, Israel banned the group from the Mount, stoking tensions shortly before the current wave of attacks broke out.
In October, Netanyahu ordered the state prosecution and security agencies to gather evidence and prepare the case for declaring the northern branch of the Islamic Movement an illegal organization.
Days earlier, the group’s firebrand leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, said his organization intends to respond to what he called “continued Israeli escalation” on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
“We have a package of plans ready to be unleashed immediately,” Salah said during a sermon. “May the streets of Jerusalem be purified with the blood of the innocent, who shed it in order to separate from their souls the soldiers of the Israel occupation, also in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
On Tuesday, Salah rejected the decision to ban the northern branch, saying he would remain in charge of the group and “continue to defend Al-Aqsa from Israel.”
Salah was sentenced earlier this year to 11 months in prison for incitement to violence and racism over an inflammatory sermon he delivered in 2007 in Jerusalem. He has previously served terms for similar offenses.
The Zionist Union, which leads Israel’s opposition, praised the decision to ban the group, but said it was overdue.
“Outlawing the Islamic movement is an appropriate move that the Zionist Union demanded more than a month ago, and it’s a shame it took [Netanyahu] so long to take this necessary step,” the party said in a statement.
AFP and JTA contributed to this report.