Arab Rights Group Protests Closure of Islamic Institute

Adalah says order against group, suspected of aiding Hamas, infringes on civil rights of Arab minority.

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, urged Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday to revoke an order closing the offices of a sub-branch of the Islamic Movement.

The order, outlawing the Al Aqsa Institute, was issued by Barak ten days ago but carried out by police only on Sunday, when large forces from the Valley District Police raided its offices in the northern Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.

Adalah said that the order "seriously infringes on the right to unionize, freedom of speech and freedom of religion of the entire Arab minority in Israel."

The organization also protested the closing the offices weeks before the beginning of the Muslim festival of Ramadan, during which the movement steps up its charity activity.

Prior to the raid, the Shin Bet had gathered intelligence revealing that Al-Aqsa was coordinating with Hamas commanders in East Jerusalem, by giving them financial and logistical support for their activities in the capital.

A number of Umm al-Fahm residents and movement activists arrived at the Al-Aqsa offices to watch the raid. Police said they seized documents, computers and other material belonging to the institute before closing it down.

In response to the police action, the Islamic Movement denied any connection to Hamas.

"The Israeli establishment prefers to use the stick method instead of talking," the movement said in a statement.

Islamic Movement spokesman Zaim Jiday denied the alleged links with Hamas.

"It's absolutely not right," he told Army Radio. "We do not cooperate [with Hamas]. We carry out legal, open and transparent activities."

The Islamic Movement's northern branch is headed by Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, who last year was arrested for disturbances at a protest against Israeli excavations near the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem.

He was later in court with incitement to violence and racism, over a fiery speech he gave in the Wadi Joz neighborhood, in which he accused Jews of using children's blood to bake bread.

Salah said Sunday that the raided institute was founded 10 years ago and has an Israeli license to operate.