Court extends remand of top Islamic cleric by 2 days

Court extends remand of top Islamic cleric by 2 days

Sheikh Raed Salah slams his arrest for incitement as a witch hunt aimed at diverting attention from Netanyahu investigations

Sheikh Raed Salah, center, smiles as he arrives at the Israeli Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on August 15, 2017. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)
Sheikh Raed Salah, center, smiles as he arrives at the Israeli Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on August 15, 2017. (AFP/JACK GUEZ)

The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday extended the remand of firebrand Muslim cleric Sheikh Raed Salah, arrested overnight Monday, for two more days.

Salah, from the Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, was arrested on suspicion of incitement to violence and terror, as well as supporting and being active in a banned organization — the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which he heads.

The judge reprimanded police for not disclosing all of the information that led to Salah’s arrest.

Before the hearing, Salah dismissed his arrest was simply a tactic to divert attention from various corruption investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“What is happening today is a continuation of the persecution of the Arab public by the Israeli government,” he said. “This is political persecution and an attempt to confuse the media so that they will pay attention to my arrest and ignore the accusations against the prime minister,” he said.

Joint List lawmaker Masud Ganaim said the arrest was persecution against the religious leader and the people of Umm al-Fahm.

“The police flexed their muscles, Rambo-style, early this morning, with their barbaric entrance to the home of a Palestinian public leader,” he said. “This is part of the intimidation and incitement against our Palestinian people and against public symbols, as part of the persecution of the residents of Umm al-Fahm. Our people will not sit idly by in the face of this persecution.”

Neighbors said large police forces arrived at the home in the Mahajaneh neighborhood of the city, searched the residence, and took Salah in for questioning.

In a statement, police said Tuesday morning that they had arrested for questioning under caution “a central instigator” of the Islamic Movement on suspicion of incitement to violence and terror, as well as supporting and being active in a banned organization. The statement was apparently referring to the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which split from the main organization.

“The investigation is being conducted together with the Shin Bet and was authorized by the State Attorney’s Office, as required in incitement cases, with the consent of the attorney general,” police said, noting that the Haifa district state prosecutor was handling the case.

“On a number of occasions, all of them after the movement was made illegal [in 2015], the inciter made statements before an audience and saw his statements quoted in the media. These statement are linked to the movement’s worldview. An examination of the [statements] raises the suspicion that some of the things said [by Salah] meet the criteria for the stated crimes.”

The statement did not specify which statements were being investigated. The statement did not explicitly name Salah as the suspect.

Salah has spearheaded campaigns asserting that “Al-Aqsa is in danger,” focusing on the claim that Israel intends to change the status quo at the contested Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem. The allegation, denied by Israel, was at the heart of last month’s violence and tensions surrounding the site.

One neighbor of Salah told the Ynet news site that the whole neighborhood was filled with police cars that were blocking the streets. “At first I thought there was a murder,” he said.

Salah was released from prison in January after serving a nine-month sentence for incitement to violence and racism.

He was convicted over an inflammatory sermon he delivered in 2007 in Jerusalem in which he praised martyrdom for the sake of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits atop the flashpoint Temple Mount.

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 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 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.

Umm al-Fahm was the home of the three terrorists who carried out an attack last month at the Temple Mount, emerging from the holy site with guns they had smuggled onto it to shoot dead two Israeli police officers.

Some 3,000 people attended the funerals of the terrorists who perpetrated the July 14 attack. They were hailed as “martyrs for al-Aqsa” and “shahids [martyrs].”

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