Police arrested an imam in the central city of Lod on Thursday on suspicion of incitement to violence, weeks after ethnic riots rocked the mixed Jewish-Arab city.
Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, 63, an imam at Lod’s Great Mosque, was questioned by investigators in the Lahav 433 unit. He was later released to house arrest by the Rishon Lezion Magistrates’ Court.
However, his release was postponed after police requested a 24-hour delay while the force files an appeal against the decision at the district court.
Albaz was arrested over social media posts that appeared to encourage violence against police. In one clip shared by him on Tuesday, two people were shown murdering traffic police officers after getting a ticket. Albaz wrote: “The best way to deal with injustice.”
The imam, who is allied with the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, has also referred to Israel as an “enemy state” and wished “deaths” upon the “Zionist occupation” in past online posts.
According to the Haaretz newspaper, police were preparing for the possibility that Albaz’s arrest would spark more riots in the city.
“Pursuant to the harassment and persecution by the Israel Police, which is under tremendous pressure by [opposition far-right MK Itamar] Ben Gvir and other extremist elements, tonight the police arrested the sheikh over sermons that he gave,” his lawyer told Haaretz.
The attorney, Rais Abu Saif, said Albaz had been in contact with police in recent days, though no claims of incitement were personally directed at him during those exchanges.
“He was asked to encourage calm, which he did,” the lawyer said.
Separately, a television report on Wednesday night said police had arrested four Arab residents of Lod some 10 days ago in connection with the killing of a Jewish man last month.
Investigators, however, do not appear to have sufficient evidence to charge the four suspects with the murder of Yigal Yehoshua, 56, the Kan public broadcaster said. Prosecutors will soon determine whether to file indictments against the suspects and on what charges, the report said.
Tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities spiraled into mob violence in multiple ethnically mixed communities last month — coinciding with the 11-day conflict in Gaza — turning cities into veritable war zones, with police failing to contain the most serious internal unrest to grip the country in years.
Yehoshua was on his way home on May 11 when he found himself in the middle of violent protests sweeping Lod. His car was pelted with rocks and he was hit in the head with a brick. Yehoshua was rushed to Shamir Medical Center in serious condition, but his condition deteriorated and he succumbed to his wounds several days later.
Intense Arab rioting broke out in the city that day following the death of an Arab man a night earlier. Mousa Hassouna had been shot by Jewish residents in what Jewish witnesses asserted was self-defense during rioting and Arab residents decried as a cold-blooded killing.
Several other people, Jewish and Arab, have been assaulted and seriously wounded in shooting incidents and beatings during the unrest.
In a separate investigation, police and the Shin Bet internal security service said Thursday that nine suspects were arrested in connection with an attack by Arab rioters on a Jewish family that accidentally entered the city of Umm al-Fahm during the violence.
Police said the May 13 attack occurred after the nearby highway was blocked during the rioting, forcing vehicles to divert to other routes.
In a statement, police said the suspects waited for a vehicle with Jewish passengers to enter the city, at which point they began to throw rocks and shout “Jews! Jews!”
The Jewish couple and their three young children were eventually rescued by police with the aid of local residents. The family members all sustained mild injuries.