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Lod imam charged with inciting violence against police amid ethnic strife

Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, 63, also accused of warning deputy mayor that Arabs ‘will give up our souls in order to teach you to stop your bullying’

Sheikh Yusuf Albaz appears for a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on June 17, 2021. (Flash90)
Sheikh Yusuf Albaz appears for a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on June 17, 2021. (Flash90)

A Lod imam was charged on Thursday with incitement in connection with social media posts that appeared to encourage violence against the police and threaten the city’s deputy mayor.

Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, 63, was arrested last month and then released to house arrest.

The charges against Albaz were filed at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court after a police investigation. The prosecution asked for Albaz to be kept under restrictive conditions during his release, including a ban on internet access and international travel, and to post a bond.

Tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities spiraled into mob violence in multiple ethnically mixed communities in May — during an 11-day conflict in Gaza — with several cities descending into mayhem and police failing to contain the most serious internal unrest to grip the country in years.

Lod saw some of the worst ethnic violence, with a Jewish and an Arab man killed in separate incidents during the unrest.

Albaz was indicted in connection with social media posts about police officers in the wake of the violence, as well as threats to Lod Deputy Mayor Yossi Harush.

A car that was burned during recent clashes between Jewish and Arab residents of Lod, in the central Israeli city of Lod, May 23, 2021. (Flash90)

“I suggest that you stop your bullies, because your provocation will take us back [to the riots] and you will pay the price for these actions,” Albaz allegedly wrote. “And as for the war you are threatening us with, Yossi Harush, we promise you that we will easily give up our souls in order to teach you to stop your bullying.”

In one clip Albaz shared from the Australian horror movie “Wolf Creek,” a man is shown murdering traffic police officers after getting a ticket. Albaz wrote: “The best way to deal with injustice.”

In a 2012 clip aired by Channel 12, Albaz was shown addressing a mob amid clashes with police, accusing Israel of carrying out “dozens of incidents of slaughter” and vowing that Israel will “exit the land” before the Arabs do.

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 “death” upon the “Zionist occupation” in online posts.

Prosecutors said that Albaz served as imam of the Great Mosque in Lod from 1991 to 2018, and was still recognized as imam after that period even though he did not formally hold the position.

Albaz has continued to deliver sermons at the mosque and at others around the country, with prosecutors noting that he has thousands of followers on social media.

After his arrest, Albaz was questioned by investigators in the Lahav 433 unit and reportedly told them that he does not take back his social media posts.

Lod imam Yusuf Albaz (screen capture: YouTube)

“That’s my Facebook. I am responsible for it and I stand behind every word that I posted. This isn’t incitement,” Albaz reportedly told investigators.

At the end of May, the Shin Bet security service told Albaz that he needed to tone down his remarks or he would face arrest, Channel 12 reported at the time.

The warning was issued as the Shin Bet was reluctant to arrest the imam at a time when tensions in Lod were running high, the report said.

In the days that followed, Albaz apparently complied and removed some of his more provocative posts, the network said.

“He was asked to encourage calm, which he did,” Albaz’s attorney, Rais Abu Saif, told the Haaretz daily at the time.

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