Sheikh Raed Salah, one of the most prominent campaigners for Palestinian rights, traveled to the United Kingdom to participate in a speaking tour, including at the launch of the 'Building Peace and Justice in Jerusalem' Campaign in Parliament, but was instead arrested for deportation from his hotel room.
What has Sheikh Raed Salah done that would elicit such a response from the British government? Sheikh Raed Salah is the charismatic leader of the Northern Islamic Movement in Israel and an outspoken champion of Jerusalem.
With a resounding absence of a reasonable explanation for the arrest of Sheikh Raed Salah in the British press, he is still represented, following the Israeli press, as a dangerous Muslim extremist. Actually, Sheikh Raed Salah says nothing more radical than what the great majority of the Palestinians and many other people around the world think: he rejects Israeli house demolition, graveyard demolition, the takeover of land and holy places – focusing in Jerusalem – and the siege on Gaza. He does not recognize the Zionist regime, including its parliament, as legitimate; he is not ready to give up Palestinian land, and the refugees' right of return. But Sheikh Raed Salah says it loudly; he speaks in a clear voice, shows only one face. Threats of prison or assassination will not stop him doing or saying what he believes is right. And that is probably the reason that the Israeli establishment does not stop persecuting him.
But let us ask a simple question: Has anyone in the British press ever spoken with Sheikh Raed Salah? Has the British public ever really had the opportunity to hear what he has said? Have they ever had the opportunity to read his writings? He has not associated himself with violence. If you listen to what he has to say, you would know why he is appreciated by so many Palestinians and others around the world.
One of his articles was written following an economic conference in Istanbul year 2006. The article contains thirty-four short sections, each telling about another experience during his visit in Istanbul, mainly people approaching him at the street. In section thirty-three, he gives us his own view about Islam:
"One of the old sites speaking the values of Islam, which was built by Sultan Abd al-Hamid the Second, may his soul rest in peace, which is still used to this very day, is the "House of the Infirm" held in Istanbul. One of the Turk brothers told us that he had established the institution for all disabled people from all segments of the Turkish society, Muslims, Christians or Jews, and built in it a mosque, a church and a synagogue. This scene still strikes me and I still find it as one of the embodiments of the humanitarian values of Islam that long time ago, went far ahead of all those dwarves that are attacking this religion nowadays" ("Reflections from Istanbul", Kul-Alarab 8.12.2006).
Trying to tie the title of a fanatic Muslim to Sheikh Raed Salah is a complete falsehood. As ridiculous is an attempt to accuse him of anti-Semitism. He represents the tradition of Islam that expands social responsibility to any human being, later on named 'humanism'; Jews are not excluded.
In an extensive set of interviews, Salah speaks about his experience in the Israeli prison, his deep sorrow about the suffering of the prisoners and also his great hope. He is confident that a better future is coming soon. He believes in the basic common sense of common people. One day he approached his Jewish warder, a young religious man and asked him if he had a Rabbi. The guy replied yes I have. Ask your Rabbi, Sheikh Raed Salah continued, what is the reward of a person who commits an injustice. The guy looked frightened. Then the Sheikh said, you know, in the future there will be here an Islamic Caliphate. The guy looked in a panic and asked: and what is going to happen to me?! The Sheikh replied: don't be afraid. The aim of the Caliphate is ending oppression; and in order to calm him down he added: but I will give you the phone number of the mayor of Umm al-Fahm, and if I will not be alive then, go and tell him that Sheikh Read sent you. The mayor will take care of you.
Sheikh Raed Salah survived several assassination attempts, the last one during the Freedom Flotilla. When changes will take place in Palestine, we all better find here, alive, Sheikh Raed Salah. Compassion is another trait of the Sheikh.
If you met or heard Sheikh Raed Salah speaking, you could not neither fear nor hate him. I was lucky to be introduced to Sheikh Raed Salah during one of his many trials, by his lawyer Husein Abu Husein. Though his lawyer does not share the Sheikh's religious views, he emphatically defends his leadership and views on justice for Palestinians. Both Husien and the Sheikh are committed to a pluralist society in Palestine. It is Sheikh Raed Salah's popularity amongst so many different Palestinians that makes him a target for persecution by the Israeli establishment.
Moreover, when Israelis have the opportunity to meet and listen to the Sheikh, they also come to appreciate him. His colleague, Sheikh Yusuf Elbaz lost his mother a few years ago. A Jewish friend of his brother came to the funeral. This friend hated Sheikh Raed Salah and used to say that if he met him he would go crazy. That is a most common reaction of an Israeli to the Sheikh; a result of the incitement by the White Zionist media. But after Sheikh Raed Salah mourned Sheikh Elbaz's mother, that guy, of an oriental origin, changed to appreciate him. And that is probably another reason that the Israeli establishment does not stop persecuting Sheikh Raed Salah.
All those committed to pluralism, humanism, freedom of expression and of religion, from the British public should demand the immediate release of Sheikh Raed Salah.
Rahela Mizrahi is a member of a family of Arab Jews which has lived for several generations in Jerusalem. She has a degree in fine arts from the Betzalel Academy in Jerusalem and a degree in Arabic literature and language from Tel Aviv University. In 2006 she signed the petition calling for the cultural boycott of Israel. She lives and works in Tel Aviv.
*See Ossi Davis on Malcolm X
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.