Prosecutors on Thursday charged a controversial Islamic cleric with incitement to terror for praising the three Arab Israelis who shot dead two police officers last month just outside the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem.
Sheikh Raed Salah, a leading member of Israel’s now-outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamist Movement, has been held in custody since his arrest last week.
Among the suspected calls for incitement to terror cited by the indictment filed at the Haifa Magistrate’s Court was a speech given by Salah at the funeral of the three men who carried out the July 14 attack at the Temple Mount, and who like Salah were from the Arab Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm.
In his speech, Salah praised the three attackers — all of them named Muhammad Jabarin — as “martyrs” and asked for “God to have mercy upon them.”
The three Arab Israelis shot dead two police officers using guns smuggled by an accomplice into the Temple Mount complex.
Following the attack, Israel shut down the Temple Mount to Muslim worshipers before reopening the site two days later after installing metal detectors at entrances to the holy site.
In response to the placement of the metal detectors, Muslim worshipers boycotted entering the Temple Mount until their removal.
In addition to daily protests outside the Old City, uproar over the move also prompted violent clashes between police and the demonstrators, with five Palestinians killed in clashes. Tensions at the site were also cited by the Palestinian terrorist who stabbed to death three members of the Salomon family during Shabbat dinner at their home in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.
As part of the indictment, prosecutors charged Salah with an additional two counts of incitement to terror for speeches he gave encouraging the violent clashes surrounding the Temple Mount.
Salah was also charged with membership of an illegal organization over his continued involvement in the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement. It was banned in late 2015 over accusations it maintained links to terror groups and for stoking a wave of violence that saw dozens of deaths in a spate of stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks.
Prosecutors requested Thursday that Salah be held in custody until the end of the legal proceedings.
Salah’s lawyers and supporters have said the cleric is innocent, saying his sermons are always within the bounds of free speech and that he “stands against the murder of innocents.”
They have called the preacher’s arrest political intimidation and say it was intended to silence dissent.
Salah said in court last week that he had been threatened by Jewish prisoners.
“If something happens, my blood is going to be on (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu’s hands,” he said.
His arrest last week came following his release from prison in January after serving a nine-month sentence on similar allegations.
Founded in the 1970s, the Islamic Movement is a political organization, religious outreach group and social services provider rolled into one. The movement’s overarching goal is to make Israeli Muslims more religious and it owes much of its popularity to its provision of services often lacking in Israel’s Arab communities. 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 Murabitun, whose protests against Jewish visitors at the Temple Mount have occasionally turned violent. In September last year, Israel banned the group from the Mount.
Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.