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Israel shuts down bodies linked to outlawed Islamic movement

Authorities freeze bank accounts, limits activities of heads of three groups accused of fanning unrest on Temple Mount

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Thousands of supporters of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and its Northern Branch leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, demonstrate against Israel's decision to outlaw the Northern Branch, on November 28, 2015, in Umm al-Fahm, northern Israel. (Muammar Awad/Flash90)
Thousands of supporters of the Islamic Movement in Israel, and its Northern Branch leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, demonstrate against Israel's decision to outlaw the Northern Branch, on November 28, 2015, in Umm al-Fahm, northern Israel. (Muammar Awad/Flash90)

Security forces on Thursday closed three organizations associated with the banned northern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement, accusing them of fanning unrest at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The organizations’ bank accounts were frozen and the activities of their senior staff curtailed.

The Temple Mount — revered by both Jews and Muslims — is a focal point for clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. It is particularly flammable during the period of the Jewish High Holy Days, when Jews visit what was once the site of their biblical temples.

The Shin Bet said in a statement that the move extended the Defense Minister’s November 2015 order to outlaw the Islamic Movement’s northern branch to include organizations identified with the banned movement.

The shutdown came after the organizations were warned to change their ways, the statement added.

The frozen bank accounts contain hundreds of thousands of shekels.

The three organizations — the Higher Council for Support in Jerusalem and Al Aqsa, a publication called QPRESS, and an educational body called Qudurat, which operates in Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm — “are continuations of the direction and the activities of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch in Israel,” the Shin Bet said.

The statement went on to say that the first two organizations “devise activities that cause tension on the Temple Mount and fan disturbances that break out at the site regularly, destabilize the security of visitors and harm the sovereignty of Israel over the site.

Masked Palestinians hold stones during clashes with Israeli police on the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem's Old City, June 28, 2016. (Muammar Awad/Flash90)
Masked Palestinians hold stones during clashes with Israeli police on the Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem’s Old City, June 28, 2016. (Muammar Awad/Flash90)

“Over recent days QPRESS has called on Muslims to go up to the Temple Mount in greater numbers with the intention of confronting the security forces and disturbing the peace at the site,” the statement said.

Jews are currently in the midst of the annual Jewish High Holy Days period, the climax of the Jewish religious calendar.

At the same time last year, clashes broke out on the Mount between Israeli security services and Palestinians, some of whom had stockpiled rocks and firebombs and barricaded themselves at the site, inside the Al Aqsa Mosque.

Masked Palestinians prepare stones inside Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest sites, on September 27, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI)
Masked Palestinians prepare stones inside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, on September 27, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI)

When it banned the Islamic Movement’s northern branch several months later, Israel accused the group of maintaining links with terror groups and inciting 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 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, it is a political organization, religious outreach group and social service provider rolled into one. The movement’s overarching goal is to make Israeli Muslims more religious and 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.

Leader of the banned northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah center, in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem January 26, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Leader of the banned northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah center, in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem January 26, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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 northern branch has also funded a group called the Mourabitun, whose protests against Jewish visitors at the Temple Mount have occasionally turned violent. In September last year, Israel banned the group from the Mount.

In May of this year, northern branch leader Raed Salah began a nine-month prison sentence for incitement to violence and racism over an inflammatory sermon he delivered in 2007 in Jerusalem.

During the 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.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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