Seven senior members of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement were charged on Thursday with offenses against state security for raising millions of shekels overseas for their group, which has been outlawed for terrorist activity.
The Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement was outlawed in November 2015. The government charged the group with links to terrorist groups and inciting a wave of violence. “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 at the time. The move also allowed for the confiscation of all property belonging to the group.
The seven allegedly continued working for the movement through cover organizations they set up for that purpose. A gag order, placed on the case when the seven were arrested in late March and early April, was lifted on Thursday.
According to the charges filed at the Jerusalem District Court, the men used the newly created organizations to collect donations, mainly from Turkey and Britain, which were put toward terrorist activities. The indictment stated that the men also skimmed a percentage of the funds, which they received in cash, as their commission.
Two of the men were in possession of more than NIS 200,000 ($55,000) in cash when they were arrested.
Six of the men are from the northern Arab town of Umm al-Fahm while the seventh is from East Jerusalem.
The men, who have been in detention for some 45 days, were permitted to see their families for the first time on Thursday at the courthouse. A mini-riot broke out when security staff banned the men from touching or speaking with their wives and children.
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.
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 the Knesset in 1996 and is now part of the Joint List, an alliance of several Arab political parties. Three of the Joint List’s 13 current Knesset members are part of the movement.
The northern branch had also funded a group called the Mourabitun, whose protests against Jewish visitors at the Temple Mount have occasionally turned violent. In September last year, Israel banned the group from the Mount.
One of the defendants said in court Thursday that “this will not stop us protecting Al-Aqsa or from caring for the weak,” referring to the Temple Mount by its Arabic name.
Police requested that the men remain in custody until the end of the legal process.
“They are accused of extensive financial activity for a terrorist organization, which works against a large population,” the prosecutor wrote in the request. “Not only does the organization regard the rule of law in the state as an enemy, like other criminals, but it sees the state itself as an enemy, and seeks to destroy it.”
A hearing was set for June 1, to allow the defense more time to study the files of the investigation.