Since the start of October, at least 61 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli occupation forces (although the death toll is rising, literally as I type) and ten Israelis (often soldiers) have been killed by Palestinians – usually youths armed with knives at the absolute end of their tether.
During this time, the Israelis have claimed that increasing tensions around al-Aqsa are nothing more than mindless Palestinian incitement aimed at attacking Jews for the sake of it, and all the talk of Israeli encroachment is nothing more than Hamas and Fatah propaganda.
But the reality is very different.
A host of perfectly legal Israeli settlers’ groups openly incite for the destruction of the Mosque and have made detailed plans about the “Third Temple” they want to replace it with. Traditional Orthodox Jewish theology held the Temple Mount to be the site of the “Holy of Holies” from the Biblical stories (the physical site of God’s presence manifest on earth) so it was considered far too sacred for Jews to enter. So these efforts are nothing to do with Jewish religious freedom, and everything to do with anti-Palestinian and anti-Islamic provocation and are yet another part of Israel’s long-term project to erase the Palestinians entirely from their own homeland.
As an example take Yehuda Glick, an American settler and a key leader in the “Temple activist” movement. Glick likes to tour other settlers and prospective around the al-Aqsa Mosque compound showing them what it would look like after the destruction of the site and its replacement with a Temple. This is perfectly legal under the occupation “status quo” Israel has enforced since 1967, but it is not hard to see why it makes Palestinians nervous, despite Netanyahu’s instance they they are protesting about nothing. There is a precedent after all.
The Ibrahimi Mosque, a Palestinian religious site in Hebron which dates back to the 7th century has been partly seized by Israel for use as a Jewish religious site. This move too took place incrementally, with gradual moves soon after the Israeli occupation of Hebron began in 1967, but it was only in the mid-1990s when part of the Mosque was fully seized a a synagogue. It’s not too hard to imagine Israel doing something similar in Jerusalem.
Indeed, only last year Israeli legislators from both Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and the supposedly left-wing Labour party proposed a bill that would allow Jews to hold prayer services at the al-Aqsa mosque compound for the first time in history.
It is because of such aggressive moves that popular Palestinian protest has often focused on Jerusalem’s religious sites. And it is that same popular movement that Raed Salah has long been renowned as a leader of.
It is for that very reason that Israel this week has finally decided to throw Salah in jail, on a trumped-up charge of “inciting violence” because of a 2007 speech he made to a group of protesters outside of Jerusalem’s Old City protesting against Israeli aggression in the city.
This same speech has been used by Israel to pursue Salah for years. They even used a fabricated interpretation of it during a 2011 visit by Salah to the UK to encourage the British authorities to arrest and imprison Salah – which they did, as I reported on for The Electronic Intifada in detail at the time. Salah was ultimately vindicated by the courts, but it was yet another sign of the lengths Israel will go to to persecute its enemies.
Salah is not involved in any kind of armed struggle whatsoever, so Israel uses any and all nefarious methods it can think of against him. These may even have gone as far as attempted assassination attempts.
During the 2010 Israeli massacre that targeted the Mavi Marmama, the Turkish ship full of activists that had been headed to break the illegal Israeli siege on Gaza, one of the ten Turks murdered by Israel (nine died at the time and a further one died in a coma years later), Ibrahim Bilgen, bore a resemblance to Salah (who was also on the same ship) and was apparently specifically targeted by the Israeli soldiers. It may well have been a case of mistaken identity, as Salah alleged at the time.
Also in 2010, secret video footage showed that the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret police, had attempted to persuade Chaim Pearlman, a known extremist Jewish settler, to assassinate Salah. In the video the Shin Bet agent, who befriended Pearlman and was known as “Dada,” can be heard exhorting him both to go to an “Arab village” to “turn it into a fireworks display” and to execute Salah.
Last year, Netanyahu also moved towards banning Salah’s movement, comparing it to the Kach, the Jewish terrorist organisation banned in 1994 after one of its members had murdered 29 Palestinians worshippers in the Ibrahimi Mosque. This despite the fact that the Islamic Movement is a purely non-violent political group.
So the long campaign against Salah continues. Even after his 11-month jail sentence, set to begin this month, it seems unlikely either that Salah will submit to their will or that the popular movement he leads will die.
The Palestinian struggle will continue for as long as Israeli occupation does.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.