Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was sentenced Wednesday to eight months in prison with another eight months as a suspended sentence for incitement to violence, over a 2007 sermon in which he called for violent measures in support of the Palestinian cause.
The charges related to a speech Salah made to hundreds of his followers and foreign media outlets in East Jerusalem. “Now they must fulfill their obligation to assist the Palestinian people,” Salah stated then. “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.”
Supporters cheered and chanted in response and several people later threw stones at policemen, injuring three.
Judge Hannah Miriam Lomp wrote in her decision that “it is impossible to ignore the defendant’s standing – a respected and well-known public figure.” His statements and choice of words could fan passions and ignite violence and had “explosive potential,” she said, adding that Salah had shown no sign of regret over his actions.
Coming out of the courtroom, Salah told reporters “Praise God, I got off easy.”
State prosecutors said they were considering appealing the sentence, which they saw as too lenient. “We have here a serious case of incitement by a political and religious leader with influence over a large public who called for violence,” the prosecution said in a statement. “Freedom of speech is of central importance to Israeli democracy, but it cannot enable statements which call for committing criminal acts of violence against security forces and the state of Israel.”
In November Jerusalem’s Magistrate’s Court found Salah guilty of incitement, while acquitting him of other charges, including incitement to racial hatred. 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 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.
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.