Israeli Court Extends Muslim Cleric’s Detention, but Says He Wasn’t Inciting Violence

Sheikh Raed Salah is to remain in custody because of the danger to public security his release might cause, not because of statements the police argued spurred others to violence

Raed Salah in the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court on August 15, 2017
Moti Milrod

An Israeli court extended on Tuesday the detention of Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the northern branch of the Islamic movement, until Thursday out of fear that his release might harm public safety. However, the court rejected the police’s allegations that Salah had incited violence in his eulogy at the funeral of the three assailants whose Temple Mount attack had killed two Border Police officers.

Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court Judge Menahem Mizrahi responded to the police that the sheikh’s pronouncements at the funeral were citations from the Koran. “I find a similarity to the funeral ceremony from another religion, but it does not count as incitement,” he held in his ruling.

Mizrahi found that Salah's statements contained “different words [than the prayer], but also a sentence that indicates a reasonable basis that this is incitement. I say this very carefully because these are offenses that concern a constitutional right [to free speech].”

The judge did not accept the police's claim that Salah was liable to interfere with their investigation by erasing the statement he had made, “and therefore the reason of danger is the only extension of his detention.”

The police representative at the hearing argued to the court: “We have a letter from the State Attorney’s Office in which the sheikh’s quotes speak for themselves regarding incitement. We believe that his sermons lead to attacks and attempted attacks, following the attack on the Temple Mount.”

Salah’s lawyer, Khaled Zabarqa, disagreed with the police and asked the court to release his client. “There is an attempt here to grossly trample the sheikh’s right to a fair trial,” Zabarqa said.

He added that Communications “Minister Ayoub Kara and others have already called to exile the sheikh, and this is a dangerous procedure that endangers and damages the freedom of expression. I think that if the court accepts the state’s position, it is de facto accepting the blurring between the permitted and the forbidden, and that is dangerous. The quotations that the police attribute to him do not contain incitement. Maybe that's how it sounds to Israeli ears, but that's exactly the place of freedom of expression: You can say outrageous things to bring about change.”

Beyond disagreeing with the police’s position on Salah’s alleged incitement, the judge further criticized them for presenting partial quotations: “During the hearing, I was exposed to evidence that allegedly showed a person who had heard the suspect’s speeches, and this speech led him to a violent act, which could indicate that the suspect was dangerous. However, during the hearing, it became clear that I had been presented with one of many statements by that person. It seems that this statement presents a partial picture, and it is possible that other motives caused that person to carry out the acts.”

Salah, his family, the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel and Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi (Joint List) had all argued that the sheikh’s arrest reflected a continuing policy of political persecution against him.

The Committee has decided to organize a national demonstration to protest both Salah’s arrest and several recent cases of administrative detention, or detention with trial. The demonstration will be in addition to a planned rally opposite the Defense Ministry.

But the committee, an umbrella organization, has yet to set a date for either the demonstration or the rally, as it wants to consult with all the groups it represents before doing so.

Committee members explained that neither the administrative detentions nor Salah’s arrest are the type of events that prompt large numbers of people to spontaneously turn out to demonstrate, even though Salah’s case was heavily covered in the Arab media. Therefore, they said, any planned protests will require advance preparation.

The committee is also considering asking international organizations and the UN Human Rights Council to speak out against the arrest and the detentions.

Salah had been released from prison in January after serving a nine-month term for incitement to violence and incitement to racism. The northern branch of the Islamic Movement, which Israel outlawed in 2015, is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.