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Israel Outlaws Domestic Islamic Group as Police Raid Offices

Updated on
  • Government says Israeli Arab movement incited wave of attacks
  • Organization's leader says step is `unjust and unacceptable'

The movement’s leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, pictured, a former mayor of the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm who has in the past been convicted of incitement and moving funds to Hamas, said the movement will continue its campaign to protect the Al-Aqsa mosque 'by all legitimate means.'

Photographer: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Israel outlawed a domestic religious-political group it referred to as the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, accusing it of inciting recent Arab violence by conducting a campaign of agitation over a Jerusalem holy site.

The security cabinet’s decision makes it illegal to belong to or aid the movement, and allows for seizure of its property. Following the overnight decision by a group of senior ministers who deal with security issues, police shut down 17 organizations linked to the movement in Arab communities throughout northern Israel. They seized records from offices of several of them, and froze bank accounts.

“For years, the northern branch of the Islamic Movement has led a mendacious campaign of incitement under the heading ‘Al-Aqsa is in danger’ that falsely accuses Israel of intending to harm the Al-Aqsa Mosque and violate the status quo,” the government said in an e-mailed statement, referring to the Jerusalem shrine.

“A significant portion of recent terrorist attacks have been committed against the background of this incitement and propaganda,” it said.

Israeli Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi told Israel Radio the decision to outlaw the branch of the Islamic Movement was a “cynical political gesture” timed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to exploit the atmosphere created by the attacks in Paris.

Tibi, a veteran parliamentarian belonging to the United Arab Party list, said the Islamic Movement expressed legitimate Muslim concerns over the holy site, and its positions did not seek to incite violence.

‘Unjust’

“All these measures taken by Israel are unjust and unacceptable,” the movement’s leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, wrote in a Facebook post. Salah, a former mayor of the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm who has in the past been convicted of incitement and moving funds to Hamas, said the movement will continue its campaign to protect the Al-Aqsa mosque “by all legitimate means.”

Arab fears that Israel is planning to change understandings governing worship at the Jerusalem hilltop compound -- known to Jews as the Temple Mount -- where the Al-Aqsa mosque is located, have spurred a surge in violence since the beginning of October that has led to the deaths of 14 Israelis and more than 80 Palestinians.

Israel denies it is trying to change arrangements in place since it gained control of the site in 1967, under which only Muslim religious prayers are permitted there, while non-Muslims are allowed to visit.

Israel’s government described Salah’s group as a “sister organization” to the Hamas movement which controls the Gaza Strip.

‘Dangerous Incitement’

“The cabinet took this step after a series of deep consultations with all relevant security and judicial bodies, with the goal of ending dangerous domestic incitement,” Netanyahu said in an e-mailed statement.

The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, an umbrella group of Israeli Arab organizations, called for a general strike by Arab businesses and schools on Thursday to protest the decision. Adalah, a group that pursues legal means for Arab rights in Israel, called it “an aggressive, draconian measure” that harms Israeli Arab rights to freedom of association and political expression, according to an e-mailed statement.

The ban “is likely to be challenged by an appeal to the Supreme Court,” said Mordechai Kedar, a researcher in Islamic radicalism at Bar-Ilan University outside Tel Aviv. “The security services probably have enough material on the group’s activities, and links to other radical Islamic groups, to convince the court to uphold the ban.”

— With assistance by Fadwa Hodali

(Updates with Netanyahu comment in 10th paragrah.)
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