The Nazareth District Court on Sunday indicted four senior members of a recently outlawed Islamic activist group for provoking tensions at the Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem, Israel’s Shin Bet security agency said Sunday.
The Shin Bet said activists from the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement were responsible for “violent activities that harm the security of tourists visiting the Temple Mount, which often escalate tensions and damage the area under Israeli sovereignty.”
The suspects allegedly provided material support for the Murabitun, an Islamic group whose regular protests against non-Muslim visitors at the Temple Mount have occasionally turned violent.
According to the statement, the four “maintained a prodigious, organized network for fundraising and paying Murabitun activists, including a system that provided rides from all over the country to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.”
The activists — named as Hikmat Naamneh and Ismail Lahwani from the northern town of Arraba; Yahya Sutra from Nazareth and Abdel Karim from Kfar Kana — were arrested in a series of joint police and Shin Bet arrest raids in October and November this year.
A statement from police spokeswoman Luba Samri on Sunday said that in total, the suspects paid Murabitun activists a total of NIS 700,000 ($181,000) in monthly stipends to maintain a presence at the flashpoint holy site.
The court charged all four with belonging to an illegal organization, unlawful possession of terrorist property and money laundering.
Last year, Israel banned the radical northern branch of the Islamic Movement, accusing it of links to terrorist groups and stoking the recent wave of violence that has seen seen 36 Israelis, two Americans and an Eritrean national killed in a spate of stabbing, car-ramming and shooting attacks. Some 238 Palestinians, a Jordanian and a Sudanese migrant have also been killed, according to AFP figures, most of them in the course of carrying out attacks, Israel says.
Muslims have expressed anger over visits by Jews to the site and fear rules governing the compound will be changed. Under a five-decade-old status quo — established by Israel after it conquered the site in the 1967 Six Day War — Jews are allowed to visit the Temple Mount, but not to pray there.
After the security cabinet declared the movement illegal last September, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon signed an edict banning any activity connected to the group.
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.
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.