The Israeli government went through on its threat to ban the Islamic Movement in 48 Palestine on 17 November. It closed down 17 of its intellectual and social institutions, as well as seizing its assets and summoning three of the movement’s leaders, Sheikh Raed Salah, Sheikh Kamal Al-Khatib and Dr Suleiman Ahmed for questioning.
The government has been threatening to ban the Islamic Movement for some time, but the fact that it decided to so at that specific time, to coincide with the Paris bombings is an attempt on its part to link the Islamic Movement to international terrorism. However, the Islamic Movement had condemned the Paris bombings from the beginning and has also condemned Daesh’s actions.
The Islamic Movement in 48 Palestine is considered an influential political movement and one of the most vital and active forces with regards to general national issues. It has great popular support and presence, has gained the trust and respect of the people, and its leaders have continued to win municipal elections in more than one area since the 1980’s.
Founded in 1971 by Sheikh Abdullah Nimar Darwish, the Islamic Movement in 48 Palestine grew popular amongst the Muslims in 48 Palestine (who possess Israeli citizenship). The Movement within the Green Line divided into two wings known in the media as the northern and southern branches due to some members’ rejection of participating in the Israeli Knesset elections.
The southern branch is led by Sheikh Hamed Abu Daabas, succeeding Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsour, who represented the Islamic Movement in the Israeli parliament eight years ago. The northern branch, which rejects the participation in the Israeli parliament, is led by Sheikh Raed Salah. The Israeli government considered Sheikh Salah as one of the Arab leaders who “incite and instigate violence” due to his great efforts in “protecting Al-Aqsa Mosque” and confronting the Israeli attempts to “Judaise” it.
In 1996, Sheikh Salah was successful in leading the movement’s efforts in renovating the Marwani Mosque inside Al-Aqsa. The doors to the large prayer area were open in 2000. This was the beginning of the conflicts between himself and the Israeli authorities, who at the time had repeatedly expressed their desire to turn the Marwani Mosque into a Jewish temple.
The confrontations continued from then. In 2000, Salah founded the Al-Aqsa for the Reconstruction of Islamic Holy Sites institute specialising in defending the Islamic holy sites inside the Green Line, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Over the past years, the institute has revealed the Israeli plans for the inside of the mosque and its surrounding areas based on reports in Hebrew that are translated into Arabic. They have also based their findings on their members’ field investigations in the areas of Israeli excavations.
The Islamic Movement also launched the Al-Bayariq March Project which brings tens of thousands of Palestinians from the villages and cities in 48 Palestine to Al-Aqsa Mosque in free buses on a monthly basis in order to fill the mosque with worshippers after Israel prohibited the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from entering the mosque.
Change in the Israeli authorities’ treatment of the Islamic Movement
The Israeli authorities’ treatment of the Islamic Movement’s northern branch has transitioned through a number of phases since its founding. These phases are as follows:
- Monitoring the movement by monitoring its media outlets, especially Sawt Al-Haq (Voice of the Truth) newspaper and Al-Hurriya (The Liberty) newspaper, which speak on behalf of the movement. It also examined the discourse of its leaders regarding the conflict with the Israeli occupation.
- Since 1998, Israel has begun considering the Islamic Movement as one of the extremist movements in the Palestinian arena. The Israeli media also started labelling some of its leaders, especially the head of the movement Sheikh Raed Salah, as extremists.
- Israel began its campaign against the Islamic Movement between 1999 and 2014. It deliberately limited and restricted the movement as well as arresting its figures, beginning with Sheikh Raed Salah. Some figures were also banned from Al-Aqsa Mosque, while some of its leaders were banned from travelling. The authorities also repeatedly summoned the leaders for questioning, while many Israeli politicians, including Lieberman and Netanyahu threatened to ban the movement.
- Banning and outlawing: Israel took this measure at the end of 2014 after a series of measures taken against the movement, including sentencing Sheikh Raed Salah to imprisonment, closing two institutions supporting those stations in Jerusalem and finally organising a media attack led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This ultimately led to the banning of the Islamic Movement.
Goal of the ban
The Israeli political level and some security circles believe that the Islamic Movement influences public opinion regarding Al-Aqsa Mosque and that it is establishing an anti-Israeli culture in the Arab cities. Therefore, it believes that banning the movement would achieve the following goals:
1. Confronting the movement’s efforts aiming to establish an independent Palestinian society with its own institutions inside the occupied territories, as well as stopping its activities associated with solidifying the identity of the Palestinian people in 48 Palestine and remaining connected with the rest of the Palestinians in the territories occupied in 1967 and in the Diaspora. The Islamic Movement also confronts the Judaisation and Israelisation projects as well as the attempts to distort the Palestinian identity, either by means of confiscating the land or by distorting the Palestinian identity and distancing the people from their values and constants. There is a land confiscation plan that the Negev is currently being subjected to by means of a decision to displace 30,000 Palestinians from the Negev and confiscate about 198,000 acres in accordance with the Prawer Plan. This is in addition to the draft bills that are being adopted in the Knesset aiming to restrict the Palestinians in the occupied territories, such as the Nakba law banning the commemoration of the Nakba, the law banning the Muslim call for prayer (Athan) in the occupied territories, and other laws that marginalise the Palestinians and their existence in their homeland.
2. Affecting the Islamic presence in the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque and containing the Islamic Movement’s effective role in confronting all of the Israeli violations in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa, including storming, changing the features of sacred sites, expansions and attempts to divide Al-Aqsa between the Jews and the Muslims. Analysts likened the ban on the movement to removing the last protective circle around Al-Aqsa Mosque, pointing out the movement’s activities in the mosque and its reinforcement of the mosque with worshippers, Murabitoun and Masateb educational classes. Member of the Islamic Higher Committee in Jerusalem and Architectural Engineering professor at Birzeit University, Dr Jamal Amro, said that Israel took the measure of banning the Islamic Movement after neutralising all the Muslim circles associated with Al-Aqsa Mosque. He added that the occupation neutralised all Muslims from entering Palestine, then neutralised the Arabs by considering the PLO the sole legitimate representative, and then neutralised the PLO by not considering it a partner in the political process and negotiations. After that, the occupation neutralised the West Bank and Gaza Strip and prohibited its residents from entering Jerusalem and praying in Al-Aqsa. By doing so, it eliminated all the trenches surrounding Jerusalem. Now it was time to eliminate the last trench resembled by the Islamic Movement. He also explained that the occupation is aware of the true role of the Islamic Movement in defending Al-Aqsa by adopting the Masateb education classes, the worshippers’ convoys, and the annual event titled “Al-Aqsa is in danger”. Therefore, the occupation wanted to eliminate the hindrance preventing it from executing its division plans.
Duty of the Islamic Movement in the opinion of its leader
Sheikh Raed Salah says: “We in the Islamic Movement believe that we have a temporary and main duty to support Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque. They are both the responsibility of the Muslim nation, the Arab world and the Palestinian people. As for our temporary duty, we must support the perseverance of our people in Jerusalem and their steadfastness in their land and homes in Jerusalem as well as in Al-Aqsa Mosque. This is especially true since we discovered that 80 per cent of them suffer from poverty and 35 per cent suffer from unemployment. They are the popular incubator for the support of Al-Aqsa Mosque and their perseverance upholds our Muslim, Arab and Palestinian right to Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque.”
“The Israeli occupation is trying, day and night, to remove them from Jerusalem in order to cut them off from their Islamic, Arab and Palestinian connection to the city and in order for the occupation to monopolise the city and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Supporting the steadfastness of the Jerusalemites in Jerusalem is necessary and our duty in order to support Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa.”
“In the same context of our temporary duty, we are now required to support those stationed in Al-Aqsa, the Al-Bayariq March Project, the Masateb educational classes, and the mosque retreats. We must also support any project that leads to the largest gathering in Al-Aqsa Mosque because supporting these means that Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque will preserve their identity as our eternal right.”
“However, along with our temporary duties, we all bear a main duty of supporting Al-Aqsa and this will not be achieved until our leaders support their right and the right of their scholars and people to Al-Aqsa Mosque. They must also adopt a united position and will, which must be adopted by the leaders, scholars and people to liberate Al-Aqsa and Jerusalem from the Israeli occupation.”
There is no doubt that the Israeli decision against the Islamic Movement is the greatest action taken against a Palestinian political movement since the 1950s. The acceptance of this measure by the Israeli political parties will reinforce the approach of targeting national movements in the occupied territories. This decision will also support the hastening of the measures to be taken by Israel regarding Al-Aqsa Mosque, especially during the current phase; a phase when the Islamic Movement requires time to re-organise and re-arrange itself and work on overcoming the ban by all means possible.
There is no doubt that the Israeli decision is considered a fatal blow to the democracy that Israel claims to possess, as well as a violation of the Palestinians’ general rights in the territories occupied in 1948. It is also a harsh blow to the organisations that provide humanitarian work and aid to the Palestinian people.
Our history has proven the failure of all plans aiming to eliminate any movement that is based on our rights and the support of the masses. This will be the case with the Islamic Movement and their supporters will only increase, because the people know that they were banned due to their role in protecting Al-Aqsa Mosque and reinforcing the Palestinian peoples’ steadfastness in their land.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.