Editorial |

A Marked Man

Sheikh Raed Salah, the arrested leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, should be released immediately

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Raed Salah in the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court on August 15, 2017
Raed Salah in the Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court on August 15, 2017Credit: Moti Milrod
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the northern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement, was arrested this week on suspicion of incitement. According to the police, during the funeral of the three terrorists from Umm al-Fahm who perpetrated last month’s attack at the Temple Mount, Salah gave a sermon in which he praised their deed and incited to “a war over the Temple Mount.”

These remarks were made a month ago, and throughout the intervening time, Salah has been able to continue inciting and spurring young Muslims to carry out attacks. Therefore, the delay in arresting him is surprising. For even if he did incite, it seems police didn’t view his words as a clear and present danger to national security; if they had, they would surely have made haste to arrest him.

But Salah has long since become a marked man. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and other ministers had demanded last month that he be put in administrative detention, a demand rejected by the attorney general, who said his statements didn’t constitute incitement to violence. Rishon Letzion Magistrate’s Court Judge Menahem Mizrahi, who heard the police’s request to arrest Salah, also wasn’t convinced that all his remarks constituted incitement. Mizrahi even objected to some of the police’s arguments, saying he “saw a similarity to the funeral service of another religion, but that one isn’t considered incitement.” Yet even these heavy hints about possible violations of Salah’s constitutional rights apparently didn’t stop the populists in the cabinet and Knesset from their campaign of persecution against the usual suspect.

Incitement is a slippery crime subject to broad interpretation, and how much it actually influences its hearers is contested. If a court decides that Salah’s words were indeed a crime, he deserves to be punished like any other criminal. Salah has already spent nine months in prison for incitement committed several years ago. Nevertheless, those who want him removed from the public stage are making a mistake if they see this as a way to make the tensions and threats of conflict over the Temple Mount go away.

As the government’s failed management of recent incidents has shown, the Temple Mount is a permanent source of conflict because of its special status in the eyes of all Muslims, whether or not they ever heard Salah speak. Wisdom, sensitivity and consideration are required in dealing with this site, because without them, any unconsidered moved is liable to develop into an international crisis.

One example of this is the crisis with Jordan, the rift with the Palestinian Authority and America’s involvement in this incident, which should have been ended through quiet diplomacy. Salah may be hitching a ride on such events to boost his status, but that isn’t enough to justify arresting him on suspicion of incitement. It would be better to release him immediately and focus instead on establishing agreed-upon rules for visiting the Temple Mount.

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