Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was convicted by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Thursday of incitement to violence. He was acquitted of other charges against him, including incitement to racial hatred. His sentence will be handed down on a later date.
The charges related to a speech Salah made in 2007to hundreds of his followers and various foreign media outlets in which he appealed to all Arabs in the Middle East to take violent measures to support the Palestinian struggle. “Now they must fulfill their obligation to assist the Palestinian people,” Salah stated in 2007. “Now it is their duty to initiate an Islamic intifada from sea to sea, in support of the holy Jerusalem and the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque.”
During his speech, the crowd interjected with cries of “God is great” and “With souls and blood we will redeem you, Al-Aqsa,” and escalated into violence as protesters threw stones at Israeli police in the area, injuring three. However, the court’s decision ultimately rejected the connection between Salah’s speech and its violent aftermath due to a lack of conclusive evidence that the stone-throwers were present at Salah’s address.
The speech, held in the Wadi Joz neighborhood in East Jerusalem, was also a violation of a restraining order barring Salah from all areas within 150 meters of the Old City.
“We don’t view these statements as incitement to violence,” the spokesman of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement told Channel 2 in response to the conviction. “The sheikh will continue to oppose the Israeli control of the area. We understand the court decision, but it too is part of the Israeli establishment, and thus unjustified.”
The accusations of racial hatred pertained to Salah’s “blood libel” remarks during his speech. “We [Muslims] have never allowed ourselves to knead the bread that breaks the fast in the holy month of Ramadan with children’s blood,” Salah said. “Whoever wants a more thorough explanation, let him ask what used to happen to some children in Europe, whose blood was mixed in with the dough of the holy bread.”
During the court proceedings, Salah stated that he did not intend his comment as a reference to Jewish blood libels, but rather as an allusion to the murder of innocent children during the Crusades. The racial hatred charge was subsequently expunged.
It wasn’t Salah’s first encounter with the Israeli legal system. From 2003 to 2005, the former mayor of Umm al-Fahm served a prison sentence on charges of funding Hamas and being in contact with an Iranian intelligence agent. In 2010, Salah was held for five months on charges of assaulting a police officer and inciting violence. Salah was also a key figure in the “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” in 2010, and has repeatedly called for the end of Israeli rule in Jerusalem.