Ra'ad Salah
Islamic Movement Northern Branch leader Sheikh Ra'ad Salah Photo by Ilan Asayag
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The head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Sheikh Raad Salah, begins a five-month prison term Sunday morning after the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court convicted him six months ago of assaulting and insulting a police officer.

The incident that led to charges against Salah occurred in February 2007 at the Temple Mount during an Islamic Movement demonstration against construction work carried out at the Mugrabi Gate. The demonstrators claimed that the work was an effort to destroy Muslim holy sites and the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The court ruled that Salah spat in the face of a border policeman and told him: "You are racists, killers and you have no honor."

Salah rejected the accusations and argued that he was opposing Israeli aggression. He appealed against the decision and the sentence through his lawyers at the Jerusalem District Court.

The district court rejected the appeal last month but shortened the original sentence from nine months to five months. It ordered Salah to present himself at Ayalon Prison in Ramle on July 25.

The court also rejected Salah's request that he begin serving his sentence only after the month of Ramadan, which begins in the second week of August.

Last week, attorneys for Salah filed an appeal at the Supreme Court that includes a request to delay the execution of the sentence.

Defense attorney Hussein Abu Hussein told Haaretz the appeal centered around the court's order in the case of the pardoning of people arrested for their role in disturbances during the Gaza disengagement. Left-wing groups said the pardons were racist. The court asked to hear arguments on why the law should be canceled.

"Our position is that the law is indeed discriminatory since Sheikh Salah does not benefit from it," the lawyer said. "The court should delay the execution of the sentence until a final decision is made on the law on the disengagement [pardons]. Unfortunately, however, Justice Edmond Levy opted to discuss the issue based on the identity of the man and not based on the heart of the matter."

There are two additional cases against Salah, who stands accused of incitement and violating an order due to a demonstration and a sermon he gave at Wadi Joz in East Jerusalem, also in 2007.

Salah plans to hold a press conference at the prison gates today. Arab MKs and members of the Monitoring Committee of Israeli Arabs will accompany him, along with many supporters.