Israeli Arabs strike over Islamic Movement ban
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Israeli Arabs strike over Islamic Movement ban

High Follow-Up Committee protests decision to outlaw northern branch of Islamist organization

Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, walks away after speaking to the media following the security cabinet's decision to outlaw the movement. (November 17, 2015)
Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, walks away after speaking to the media following the security cabinet's decision to outlaw the movement. (November 17, 2015)

The Arab population of Israel went on a general strike on Thursday in protest against a cabinet decision earlier in the week to outlaw the northern branch of the Islamic Movement.

Arab schools, municipalities and smaller communities participated in the strike, and garbage was not collected.

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, an umbrella organization representing Israeli-Arabs at a national level, announced the strike on Tuesday, the day after the security cabinet decision.

The cabinet charged the northern branch of the Islamic Movement with links to terrorist groups and inciting the recent wave of violence, and said in a statement that membership or activity within the framework of the group would constitute a “criminal offense punishable by a prison sentence.”

Police raided the Islamist group’s offices overnight Monday, seizing documents, computers and money in chapters across the country.

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 cabinet 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.

Arab representatives denounced the decision, with MK Taleb Abu Arar of the Joint (Arab) List saying that Israel had “declared war on the Arab community in Israel,” and that Israel would have to bear the consequences.

United (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi called the decision contemptible and said that the Islamic Movement is an authentic part of the Palestinian-Arab community in Israel. Tibi said that he saw the move as “aimed against all of the Arab public and against the right and even obligation to act for our public, especially on the topic of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and attempts by right-wing elements to change the status quo.”

The recent wave of violence has been fueled in part by claims by Palestinian Muslims that Israel is trying to change the status quo on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam. The status quo holds that only Muslims are allowed to pray on the mount, which is also the holiest site in Judaism, revered as the site of the two biblical Temples.

Israel has repeatedly and vehemently denied Palestinian allegations that it is trying to change the status quo and has accused Palestinian political and religious leaders of lying and inciting to violence.

The Islamic Movement northern branch’s firebrand leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, said last week that 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,” he 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 expressed defiance against 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.

AP contributed to this report.

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