Ex-Islamic Movement Leader Gets Two and a Half Years in Prison for Incitement to Terrorism

Sheikh Ra’ad Salah was convicted of praising the actions of three Israeli Arabs who killed two Border Police officers in Jerusalem's Old City in 2017

Raad Saleh greets supporters before his indictment at the Haifa Magistrate's Court, November 24, 2019.
Amir Levy

Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, the former head of the northern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement, was sentenced on Monday for incitement to terrorism and support for illegal organizations.

Salah received 28 months' imprisonment and 12 months of probation. The Haifa Magistrate's Court counted the 11 months he spent in detention as part of his sentence; in practice, he will remain in prison for 17 months.

His lawyers said that Salah does not plan to appeal the decision. Through his attorney, Salah called the court's decision "a continuation of the political persecution against me," saying that his stance and values are based on the Quran.

Joint List MK Yousef Jabareen criticized the decision, writing on Twitter that "in a country where the prime minister, senior ministers and main religious figures incite against the Arab public and its leaders from morning til night," Salah's sentencing represents another act of persecution against Israel's Arabs. He also called it a "dangerous erosion of freedom of speech" against an Arab leader "and delegitimization of political and religious action."  

Muhammad Baraka, chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in Israel, said that the court's decision represents "an attempt to tame the Arabic language, and we will never adopt the the spoken language of Zionism." He also connected the case to that of Arab Joint List MK Heba Yazbak, who was present at the sentencing. 

Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said on Twitter that “justice was served in Ra’ad Salah’s case,” but went on to blast Yazbak, a day after the High Court ruled she won’t be barred from running in Israel’s March 2 election over a social media post in which Central Election Committee members claimed she expressed support for a terrorist.

In her case, Lieberman said, “it’s a shame justice won’t be served. I propose to Yazbak, who came to support him [Salah], to stay with him through his time in prison.”

Salah was arrested in 2017 after police alleged he had praised a terrorist attack that summer on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount and incited violence at the funeral of the three assailants in that attack, who were from the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm. Two Border Police officers were killed and another was wounded in the incident at the entrance of the Temple Mount.

In November, he was convicted of incitement to terrorism in the Haifa Magistrate's Court, where he was accompanied by dozens of supporters. 

Ra'ad Salah surrounded by supporters outside court, Haifa, November 24, 2019
Amir Levy

While Haifa Magistrate’s Court Judge Shlomo Benjo had accepted the sheikh’s argument that some of his remarks at the funeral had been mistranslated, the judge ruled that the translation errors did not alter the general meaning of his comments.

“Despite the attempts to give the defendant’s statements a religious character, the conclusion is that the accused expressed praise, sympathy and support for the attacks,” the judge said in delivering his verdict. Freedom of expression “does not mean that a person can say whatever he feels like. There are limits, first and foremost, when it comes to state security,” the judge added.

Salah had received a suspended sentence on a prior conviction, making it more likely that he would serve jail time.

According to the indictment, Salah praised the Temple Mount attackers at their funeral, saying: “At these moments [we need to stand together] as one house, as one family. We take leave of our martyrs ... and express the wish that they join the prophets, the righteous ones and the martyrs. At these moments, may we pray that God increases their value in the heavens in paradise.”

On various occasions, Salah allegedly posted calls on Facebook to commit acts of terrorism and other violence. One example cited was a video in which he is seen speaking in the Israeli Arab town of Baka al-Garbiyeh. He made reference in the speech to the controversial extremist Jewish religious book Torat Hamelech, which he said permitted the killing of Palestinian children.

Addressing the children in the audience, he said in part: “We would be happy to go to prison for your sake. We would be happy to carry out attacks and threats for your sake. We would be happy to die as martyrs for your sake.”

In July 2017, Salah allegedly delivered a Friday sermon in Umm al-Fahm to hundreds of people in which he praised two outlawed Islamic organizations, the Murabitat and Murabitun, in addition to people who “never stop guarding, confronting the Israeli occupation, confronting the weapons of the Israeli occupation, and are not afraid of being hit, being injured, being arrested.”

The Islamic Movement's northern branch was declared illegal in November 2015. Salah headed the branch from 2006 until it was outlawed.