The head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, must serve 11 months of jail time for incitement to violence and racism, the Jerusalem District Court ruled Tuesday after rejecting an appeal by the high-profile Islamist cleric for the second time.
Salah, who was convicted in connection with a sermon he delivered in 2007 in Jerusalem, will begin serving his sentence in November, the Ynet news site reported.
The sentencing comes as Israel’s government has said it is seeking to outlaw Salah’s group, blaming it for helping to goad attackers during a wave of violence that has seen near daily stabbings and other attacks.
The cleric originally lost an appeal over an eight-month sentence he received last year, and was sentenced in March to 11 months in prison when racism charges were added to the case. He appealed again, but the court ruled against him Tuesday.
During the 2007 sermon, Salah expressed hope that “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.” He further said that “our finest moment will be when we meet Allah as martyrs in Al-Aqsa.”
A crowd of Palestinian men confronted Border Police troops at the end of that sermon, wounding three of them.
Salah responded to the court decision by vowing to continue agitating over the Temple Mount.
“Jerusalem is under occupation and we won’t give up on the value of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. With spirit and blood we will redeem Al-Aqsa,” he said, according to the Walla news website.
The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee also slammed the decision as a move “against the entire Arab population.”
“Salah was sentenced over a legitimate political statement in defense of the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” said Mohammed Barakeh, the head of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and a former Hadash MK.
Salah, 57, has been banned from the Temple Mount by court order, and has spent the past decade in and out of Israeli jails for incitement, assaulting a police officer, and contact with Hamas. In 2012, he was held in detention in the UK for 21 days as he appealed a deportation order issued by the Home Office, an appeal he eventually won.
The Temple Mount compound, which has been at the center of the recent spike in unrest, houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and was the site of two ancient Jewish temples. The site is sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Israel has repeatedly denied persistent Palestinian allegations to the effect that it seeks to change the arrangements at the site in order to allow Jews to pray there.
Last week, in a Facebook post, Salah once again accused Israel of scheming to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to “build an imaginary temple on its ruins.” He urged the Jordanian government to revoke articles in the 1994 peace treaty with Israel that allow Jews to visit Temple Mount, “even if this brings about the annulment of the peace treaty.”
“The first article of section nine of this agreement states that each side grants the other freedom to enter places of religious and historic importance. Based on that text, the Israeli occupation claims that it has tacit agreement to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque, claiming that Al-Aqsa Mosque is the so-called Temple, which bears religious and historic significance,” wrote Salah.
Israel’s General Security Service has repeatedly accused Salah’s movement of collaborating with Hamas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked the Justice Ministry to find evidence proving that Salah’s Islamic Movement is inciting Muslims to commit violent attacks against Israelis as part of his longstanding media campaign “Al-Aqsa is in danger.”
At a press conference on October 8, Netanyahu singled out the Islamic Movement as the main instigator of violence in Israel and the West Bank, as a wave of stabbings and stone throwing swept the country.
Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.