As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempts to outlaw the northern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement for incitement to violence, the movement’s leader remained belligerent on Tuesday, appealing to the government of Jordan to deny Israelis visitation rights at Temple Mount.
In an appeal posted on his Facebook wall, Sheikh Raed Salah once again accused Israel of scheming to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to “build an imaginary temple on its ruins.” He urged the Jordanian government to revoke articles in the 1994 peace treaty with Israel that allow Jews to visit Temple Mount, “even if this brings about the annulment of the peace treaty.”
“The first article of section nine of this agreement states that each side grants the other freedom to enter places of religious and historic importance. Based on that text, the Israeli occupation claims that it has tacit agreement to enter Al-Aqsa Mosque, claiming that Al-Aqsa Mosque is the so-called Temple, which bears religious and historic significance,” wrote Salah.
Netanyahu has asked the Justice Ministry to find evidence proving that Salah’s Islamic Movement is inciting Muslims to commit violent attacks against Israelis as part of his longstanding media campaign “Al-Aqsa is in danger.” According to a report in Maariv’s website on Tuesday, a final decision on the matter has not yet been reached.
At a press conference on October 8, Netanyahu singled out the Islamic Movement as the main instigator of violence in Israel and the West Bank, as a wave of stabbings and stone throwing raged.
“We are in the midst of a wave of terror which is the result of wild and fallacious incitement by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, a few states in the region, but no less — and often much more — by the Islamic Movement in Israel,” Netanyahu said. “We will take harsh measures against the Islamic Movement in Israel. No one will escape.”
A few hours earlier, Salah preempted Netanyahu’s threat in a show of defiance, broadcast live from Nazareth on Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV.
“They threaten to outlaw us, but it is the Israeli occupation that is [acting] outside the law,” he said. “Jerusalem is in danger and Al-Aqsa is in danger, and the only solution is for the Israeli occupation to leave. This is a Palestinian consensus.”
“There is no force in the world, regardless of its name, in Hebrew or not in Hebrew, that can outlaw us,” the Islamic cleric continued. “We have stood with Al-Aqsa and will continue to do so until we die and meet God.”
Palestinian leaders, from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, have been emphasizing the alleged imminent threat to Al-Aqsa posed by Israel, from its supposedly planned destruction (Haniyeh) to the division of its plaza between Jews and Muslims (Abbas).
But there is no leader more associated with sounding the alarm over those fabricated dangers than Salah of Umm al-Fahm.
Yehuda Yemini, a recently retired Shin Bet official, said that the Islamic Movement has invested considerable funds in inflaming religious tensions on the Temple Mount, referred to in Arabic as Haram al-Sharif or simply “Al-Aqsa” (derived from the Al-Aqsa Mosque).
“The activity of the Islamic Movement has narrowed to focus almost exclusively on the Temple Mount,” Yemini told The Times of Israel. Since 2010, when Hamas activity was eradicated from Jerusalem, the Islamic Movement has taken its place, he added.
“Every day they would bus in 300-400 people from northern and southern Israel, paying them 3,000 shekels a month, to sit there and heckle Jewish visitors under the guise of religious study groups,” Yemini said. “They film these visits and post the video clips two hours later on their website under the inciting slogan of ‘Jews trying to conquer the Mount’ … you repeat this lie enough time and people start believing it.”
In March, Salah was sentenced to 11 months in prison for incitement to violence and racism during a sermon he gave in Jerusalem in 2007, where he alleged that Israel was preparing to replace the Al-Aqsa Mosque with a third Jewish Temple and accused Jews in Europe of using Christian blood for Passover matzos.
Salah, 57, has been banned from the Temple Mount by court order, and has spent the past decade in and out of Israeli jails for incitement, assaulting a police officer, and contact with Hamas. In 2012, he was held in detention in the UK for 21 days as he appealed a deportation order issued by the Home Office, an appeal he eventually won.
At his October 8 press conference, Salah was as defiant as ever.
“We are not frightened by the threats, the imprisonment, the banishment and removal [from Temple Mount], the injuries. Martyrdom at Al-Aqsa Mosque is an honor that every free man aspires to.”
He ended his speech with a threat: “Any escalation against Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, any escalation against the Palestinian people, any escalation against the Islamic Movement, will be met with a proper response. We have a set of plans ready for implementation.”