Israeli court rejects Islamic leader’s appeal against conviction, imprisonment

Five months after his sentencing, the Haifa District Court rejected an appeal submitted by Sheikh Raed Salah, chief of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, against his imminent imprisonment.

al-monitor Sheikh Raed Salah (C), head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, sits in Magistrates Court after he was arrested on the Gaza flotilla, Ashkelon, Israel, June 1, 2010. Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images).

Jul 17, 2020

The Haifa District Court rejected July 16 an appeal submitted by Sheikh Raed Salah, chief of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, against his prison sentence. The court maintained the ruling of 28 months in jail. Salah has already spent 11 months in detention, thus is expected to serve now 17 months, starting Aug. 16.

In November 2019, the Haifa Magistrates Court found Salah guilty of incitement to terror and of membership in an outlawed organization. And in February, the court sentenced him to 28 months in prison.

Salah was convicted for expressing on several occasions sympathy with terrorists or encouraging terrorism, including a sermon he delivered after the July 2017 terror attack by three Israeli Arabs at the Jerusalem Lion Gate outside the Temple Mount compound. Two Israeli police officers were killed in the attack. According to the verdict, Salah praised the “martyrs of Al-Aqsa,’’ and hailed their actions. Salah also gave a similar speech at a symbolic funeral held for the three gunmen in the city of Umm al-Fahm.

Already in 2015, Israel’s security Cabinet outlawed the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, accusing it of collaborating with Hamas. Following that decision, the Israeli Police seized the group's property and closed its offices. Later, the police also shut down 17 nonprofit organizations and movements affiliated with the group.

The 2015 outlawing of the group and the 2017 Temple Mount terror attack by three residents of Umm al-Fahm heightened tensions between Israeli Arabs and Jews. Right-wing groups and politicians targeted specifically the city, Salah’s home town, questioning the loyalty of its residents to the country.  In 2018, then-Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman proposed that Umm al-Fahm be transferred to the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority as part of a future agreement. "You ask yourselves why Umm al-Fahm should be part of Palestine and not Israel? The sight of hundreds of people participating in the funeral of a terrorist with a Palestinian flag, and calling for ‘in spirit and blood we redeem the martyr’ gives you a final answer to the question,” Liberman said.

Rejecting Salah’s appeal July 16, the court stated that Salah’s contention that the 2017 attack was not terror — but resistance — was “outrageous." The judges also rejected the argument that the conviction impinged on the right for free speech, saying that free speech did not extend to support for violent acts, especially for a community leader. “The leader knows that the public looks to him and learns from his words, as well as his silence, on supporting criminal acts. And so, he bears responsibility,” the judges wrote in their decision.

The judges also referred to the outlawing of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, stating that only the Supreme Court had the jurisdiction to look into that decision. Still, the judges noted that in some cases a terror group is not a terror-structure per se, but an organization with mixed goals and activities, some legal and some illegal.

After the ruling, Salah said that the verdict changes nothing in his beliefs. His lawyers related that they will not appeal the decision again.

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