Senior Islamic Movement official arrested in Rahat

As Israel looks to outlaw Islamist group, police say Sheikh Yusef Abu Gammah incited violence and encouraged illegal activity

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Sheikh Yusef Abu Gammah, senior figure in the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel (Screenshot from YouTube)
Sheikh Yusef Abu Gammah, senior figure in the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel (Screenshot from YouTube)

A senior official of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel was arrested Monday morning, a day after Israeli politicians vowed to crack down on the group for contributing to a round of violence across the country over recent weeks.

Police said that Sheikh Yusef Abu Gammah, who heads the group’s Rahat branch, was detained for inciting violence and soliciting illegal gatherings. He will be brought today for an arraignment hearing to extend his detention.

Despite earlier reports, movement head Sheikh Raed Salah was not arrested, according to the police.

The move comes hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed judicial officials to begin assembling evidence that would make the Northern Branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement illegal.

Following a four-hour senior security cabinet meeting on Sunday night, an official in Jerusalem said that the ministers would continue their debate on the Islamist group in the coming days.

 An Islamic Movement rally in Rahat in 2013. (Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)
An Islamic Movement rally in Rahat in 2013. (Dudu Greenspan/Flash90)

In his statement during the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu named Hamas, the Palestinian Authority and the Islamic Movement in Israel as sources of recent incitement.

Last week, Netanyahu charged that the terrorist attacks targeting Israelis “are all the result of wild and mendacious incitement by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, several countries in the region and — no less, and frequently much more — the Islamic Movement in Israel” over the Temple Mount.

The Shin Bet security agency is reportedly opposed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to outlaw the organization.

While the measure is intended to stamp out incitement to violence — attributed to the organization by the Shin Bet — the agency is worried banning the movement entirely could bolster the current wave of terror attacks, according to Army Radio.

A number of Israeli Arabs have been accused of carrying out violent stabbing attacks against Jews in recent days, and a number of Israeli Arab cities in Israel’s north have seen violent protests and clashes with police.

Salah, the head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, said last week that his organization intends to respond to what he called “continued Israeli escalation” against the Temple Mount.

Islamic Movement leader Raed Salah (center) takes part in a rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on April 28, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Islamic Movement leader Raed Salah (center) takes part in a rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on April 28, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“We have a package of plans ready to be unleashed immediately,” Salah said. “May 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 said during that sermon.

Salah blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the recent escalation in violence, and said that he would be responsible for further attacks.

“Any future action will be a direct result of the occupation policy of Netanyahu’s arrogant leadership,” Salah said.

In March 2014, Salah was sentenced to eight months in prison with another eight months as a suspended sentence for incitement to violence, over a 2007 sermon in which he called for violent measures in support of the Palestinian cause.

The charges related to a speech Salah made to hundreds of his followers and foreign media outlets in East Jerusalem. “Now they must fulfill their obligation to assist the Palestinian people,” Salah stated then. “Now it is their duty to initiate an Islamic intifada from sea to sea, in support of the holy Jerusalem and the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque.”

From 2003 to 2005, Salah, the former mayor of Umm al-Fahm, served a prison sentence on charges of funding Hamas and being in contact with an Iranian intelligence agent. In 2010, he was held for five months on charges of assaulting a police officer and inciting violence. Salah was also a key figure in the so-called “Gaza Freedom Flotilla” in 2010, and has repeatedly called for the end of Israeli rule in Jerusalem.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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