Islamist cleric Raed Salah was released from prison early Tuesday morning after serving a nine-month sentence for incitement to violence and racism.
Salah, the head of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, 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 holy site.
During the offending sermon, Salah expressed hope that “the streets of Jerusalem be purified with the blood of the innocent, who shed it in order to separate from their souls the soldiers of the Israel occupation, also in the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque.” He further said that “our finest moment will be when we meet Allah as martyrs in al-Aqsa.”
Ahead of his release from Ramon Prison, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on Monday issued a six-month travel ban on Salah, citing his potential “danger to the country.”
In late 2015, Israel banned the radical Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, accusing it of maintaining links to terror groups and of stoking a wave of violence that saw dozens of deaths in a spate of stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks.
After the security cabinet declared the movement illegal, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon signed an edict banning any activity connected to the group.
In December last year, police launched a new investigation into Salah over other incitement-related charges from before his most recent incarceration.
Police said last week its Lahav 433 major crimes unit recommended to the Haifa district prosecutors that Salah be indicted for a number of charges including incitement to terrorism and violence, as well as supporting an illegal organization.
Salah had expressed support for the Northern Branch on multiple social media platforms since the organization was outlawed, police said. He also openly talked about his position within the organization.
Police said his online statements and own confirmation of his role in the Northern Branch amounted to incitement.
Salah has previously served time for similar offenses.
Founded in the 1970s, the Islamic Movement is not just a political organization but also a religious outreach group and social service provider rolled into one. The movement’s overarching goal is to make Israeli Muslims more religious and it 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 Israel’s Knesset in 1996 and is now part of the Joint List, an alliance of several Arab-Israeli political parties. Three of the Joint List’s 13 current Knesset members are part of the movement. The more hard-line northern branch rejects any legitimization of Israel’s government and has called on its adherents to boycott elections.
It also rejects the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians and boycotts national elections on the grounds that they give legitimacy to the existence of the Jewish state.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.