Israeli Police Arrest Imam of Lod's Largest Mosque for Incitement on Social Media

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Sheikh Yusuf Albaz in Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court on Thursday.
Sheikh Yusuf Albaz in Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court on Thursday.Credit: Moti Milrod

Police arrested the imam of Lod’s largest mosque on Thursday on suspicion of incitement to violence against the police.

The arrest was the result of a Facebook post Wednesday in which Sheikh Yusuf Albaz included a link to a video that allegedly encourages attacks on the police. The video shows a clip from a movie depicting two people killing traffic policemen in revenge for  stopping them. In the post, Sheikh Albaz wrote: “The best way to deal with injustice.”

The Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court ordered Albaz released to house arrest, but he remains in jail while police appeal the decision.

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After Albaz’s Facebook post sparked widespread criticism, he responded with another post on Wednesday accusing his critics of having “lost their minds.”

“Who would have believed that Knesset members would be so scared of an American video and a person expressing his opinion of the video?” Albaz wrote. “Let’s see if it just involves a few crazies or whether ... it's the bankruptcy of the state.”

The reference was to two Knesset members from the Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich and Simcha Rothman, who had demanded that Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev have Albaz arrested.

Police in Lod in May.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

At the bail hearing, Judge Erez Melamed said Albaz’s post was not “legitimate criticism, but incitement,” adding that the imam had turned social media “into a tool for escalating hatred and disseminating fear and evil.” Freedom of expression doesn’t include incitement to violence, he added, and particularly given last month’s violent riots in mixed Arab-Jewish cities, “the court has an obligation to uproot such behavior.”

Nevertheless, Melamed denied a police request to have Albaz remain in detention for a week without bail, saying that the imam should instead be sent to house arrest.

Albaz’s lawyer, Raies Abo-Saif, said his client was arrested for a sermon he gave “following harassment and persecution by the police, who were under enormous pressure from Ben-Gvir and other extremists,” a reference to Religious Zionism MK Itamar Ben-Gvir. The attorney added that Albaz had met with senior police officers in the district over the past few days, “and they never had any complaints about him. He was asked to calm tempers and in fact did so.”

Albaz, a member of the more radical northern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement, has become a prominent figure in Lod in recent years, so police are preparing for the possibility that his arrest will set off violent riots in the city, a mixed Jewish-Arab town southeast of Tel Aviv. Jewish residents of the city have been urging the police to arrest him for weeks, claiming that he has been inciting violence in his sermons.

Last week, a court decided that Kamal Khatib, the deputy chairman of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch, should remain in jail for now. Khatib was arrested last month and charged with incitement to violence, praising terrorism and supporting or identifying with a terrorist organization due to things he said and wrote during last month’s war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In the course of the war, Lod was the scene of numerous incidents of intercommunal violence. Yigal Yehoshua, a 56-year-old Jewish resident of the city, was killed on May 11 when Arabs stoned his car, apparently out of nationalist motives. A day earlier, Moussa Hassouna, a 32-year-old Arab resident of the city, was shot to death, apparently by a Jew, during mob violence in which Arabs threw stones at Jewish homes, uprooted traffic signs and burned objects in the street. Three Jews were arrested in connection with the killing and have been released on bail.

Mobs also vandalized Jewish and Muslim houses of worship and cemeteries. The Dusa synagogue in Lod was torched three times, causing damage. In another incident, holy books were destroyed when the Maoz premilitary academy’s synagogue and study hall were torched; and gravestones were smashed in the city’s Muslim cemetery.

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