Firebrand Arab Israeli cleric sentenced to 28 months for inciting terrorism

Raed Salah, convicted in November over a series of expressions of support for terrorism, including speech praising Temple Mount gunmen, says claims against him are ‘all lies’

Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, arrives for a court hearing in Haifa on February 10, 2020. (Flash90)
Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, arrives for a court hearing in Haifa on February 10, 2020. (Flash90)

A prominent Arab Israeli Islamic cleric, convicted in November of incitement to terrorism over a 2017 speech in which he praised a deadly attack at the Temple Mount, was sentenced Monday to 28 months in prison.

The Haifa Magistrate’s Court sentenced Raed Salah, 61, whose most recent conviction came as he was serving a suspended sentence for a previous conviction of incitement, support for terrorism and public disturbance convictions.

He had been released from prison in 2017 after serving a nine-month sentence for incitement to violence and racism.

Salah, a former mayor of Umm al-Fahm and a leading Islamist ideologue in the Arab Israeli community, has repeatedly expressed support for “resistance” and warned his followers that Israel sought to destroy the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.

The court on Monday granted him 11 months off the sentence for time served, for a total of 17 months behind bars. It also sentenced him to an 18 months’ suspended sentence to be served if he is convicted again.

He was arrested and charged two years ago for praising three Arab Israelis who shot dead two police officers in a July 2017 terror attack at the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City. The attack, and Israel’s ensuing decision to beef up security at the holy site, significantly ramped up tensions between Israel and the Arab world.

Master Sgt. Kamil Shnaan, left, and Master Sgt. Haiel Sitawe, right, the police officers killed in the terror attack next to the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on July 14, 2017. (Israel Police)

At the funeral for the terrorists, Salah told the gathered mourners, “In these moments, we are one house, one family. We part with our martyrs, and wish for them to join the prophets, the righteous and the martyrs. At these moments we pray to God to raise them up in heaven.”

The Haifa Magistrate’s Court ruled in November that those comments, as well as many others, including sermons posted online by Salah himself, contained “words of praise, admiration and support for terror attacks.”

His November conviction included charges of supporting an outlawed organization. In 2015, Israel banned the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which he led, over its ties to terror groups and for inciting deadly violence.

Salah argued in his defense that his views were religious opinions rooted in the Quran, and did not constitute a direct call to violence.

“It’s all lies,” he said after his sentencing Monday, according to the Haaretz daily. “Everything that was said [by the court] was far from the truth. I don’t know where they got this stuff that was attributed to me. It looks like someone wrote lies about me and the court presented them as facts.”

Salah’s attorneys said Monday they would read the sentence and consult about a possible appeal to the district court.

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