Israel Arrests Muslim Leader Ra'ad Salah on Suspicion of Inciting to Terror

Salah, who led the outlawed northern branch of the Islamic Movement, was released from prison in January after serving a nine-month prison sentence for incitement

Sheikh Raed Salah, center,  outside the Jerusalem District Court in 2015.
Emil Salman

Israel Police arrested Sheikh Ra'ad Salah early Tuesday on suspicion of incitement to violence, terrorism and illegal organizational activity. The police also raided Salah's home and confiscated two computers.

Salah had been the head of the now-outlawed northern branch of Israel's Islamic Movement.

A court hearing was scheduled later Tuesday on a request by authorities to extend the detention of Salah, who had been released from prison in January after serving a nine-month prison term for incitement. Salah was convicted of inciting to violence for a sermon that he had delivered years before in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz.

A police statement issued Tuesday said Salah has engaged in incitement on a number of occasions since the Islamic movement's northern branch was outlawed in 2015 on grounds of incitement. The southern branch has not been made illegal.

The police attributed crimes to Salah of a year ago. They alleged that the sheikh incited violence by calling on people to fight on the Temple Mount. In addition, during the funeral of the three assailants whose attack at that site had killed two Border Police officers, the police alleged that Salah had delivered a sermon in which he praised the incident. The police further claimed that he still has an influence on young people.

The outlawing of the northern branch of the movement, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, led to the shutdown of most of its institutions. Membership and involvement in it constitutes a criminal offense. The order outlawing the northern branch also provides grounds for confiscation of its property.

Relatives of Salah told Haaretz that his arrest Tuesday reflects a continuing policy of political persecution against him.

The High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel was to convene for an emergency session Tuesday afternoon. In a statement issued earlier in the day, the committee said that Salah's arrest was the Israeli government flexing its muscles in a campaign led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against the Arab community. The committee claimed that this campaign sought to distract the public from Israel's so-called crimes in the disputed territories.

The statement also argued that Salah's statements were legitimate pronouncements under the principle of freedom of expression and did not constitute a crime. "We reject the policy of intimidation and political investigation, and that arrests aimed at silencing the Arab public and its leadership," the committee said. They added that the arrest was carried out after four young people from Wadi Ara were held without charges in administrative detention, signifying a new policy that brings to mind dark regimes and military governments.

Municipal authorities in the northern city of Umm al-Fahm also issued a statement condemning Salah's arrest, terming it political persecution and the continuation of a policy of administrative detentions aimed at intimidating the Arab public.

Salah's wife said in a Tuesday-morning interview with Ashams Radio, which broadcasts from Nazareth, that her husband had not been surprised by the overnight arrest. She explained that her husband had been the target of a media campaign of incitement and political persecution from the Israeli government and media. She said that her husband had gone with the police without objecting, but he had made it clear that he was not willing to speak without first meeting with his lawyer. 

Ahmad Tibi, a lawmaker from the Joint List, condemned the timing of the sheikh's arrest. He said that the authorities could have telephoned Salah and told him to report to the police station. The parliamentarian added that the arrest was due to political statements regarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque and constituted political persecution and silencing opponents. Right-wing rabbis and activists incite violence and murder against Arabs daily without police intervention, he said.

Tibi warned against the apparent increasing trend of administrative detentions against political activists.