Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel's northern branch and a Palestinian resistance icon, said his just-ended nine-month jail stint had only served to steel his resolve.
"Prison only strengthened my steadfastness and commitment to our cause," Salah told Anadolu Agency in an exclusive interview.
Commenting on threats by the Israeli police to lodge a fresh raft of charges against him, Salah asserted: "Such trifles don't concern me. God willing, I will continue my struggle."
He also stressed his ongoing commitment to protecting Jerusalem's iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Salah also saluted Turkey and the Turkish people, who he hailed for foiling last summer's coup attempt.
The text of Salah's interview with Anadolu Agency is as follows:
AA: Tell us about your recent nine-month period in custody, especially your time in solitary confinement.
Sheikh Raed Salah: I was in Ramon Prison in southern Palestine close to the Gaza Strip, where I was kept in solitary confinement, meaning I was forced to sit for long periods alone in my cell. I wasn't allowed to speak with other inmates or to give or take food… In solitary confinement, everything is forbidden; you are totally alone. This policy, which includes torture, makes inmates feel as if they are cut off from the rest of the world. It's a very oppressive atmosphere. Solitary confinement punishes both inmates and their families. For this reason, effort should be made – on the political, public and media levels – to abolish the practice.
AA: How were your relations with other inmates?
Sheikh Raed Salah: Thank God, during the months I spent in Ramon Prison, I had a chance to speak – through the windows – with a number of inmates from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who were serving out long sentences. Some were serving out life sentences; some had been in prison for as many as 14 years. But thanks to Allah, inmates' morale remains high. They refuse to negotiate over Muslim, Arab or Palestinian rights. They remain steadfast.
AA: How were you treated in prison? Were you subject to torture?
Sheikh Raed Salah: There was no physical torture, but there was severe psychological stress in the form of intense interrogations by police and intelligence officers. I also faced persistent low-intensity torture in the form of constant disturbances, with my cell being constantly searched by prison wardens. This often happens in the early hours of the morning, when a team would come in and ransack my cell. They also prohibited my access to newspapers and books for long periods of time.
AA: Did your recent jail stint hinder your ongoing resistance project?
Sheikh Raed Salah: Prison sustains us. We feed on imprisonment, which boosts our morale and our steadfastness. No matter what they do, we remain free: we enter prison free, remain in prison free, and leave prison free.
AA: Could you tell us about the interrogations?
Sheikh Raed Salah: There were frequent interrogations by police, during which they accused me of "inciting violence" and being a member of an "outlawed group". But these accusations don't scare me. Such trifles don't concern me. God willing, I will continue my struggle, which involves Muslim, Palestinian and Arab components. Threatening language does not deter us, whether it is uttered by individuals or institutions. I will resist [the Israeli occupation] until it is time to meet Allah. They interrogated me about [the Islamic Movement's] sit-in protests at Al-Aqsa. I told them we would continue the practice, which constitutes a form of worship, like praying, fasting, charity or pilgrimage [to Makkah]. I told them, 'If you want to prosecute me for holding sit-ins [at Al-Aqsa], then you will be prosecuting Islam itself'. This is like prosecuting someone for praying or fasting.
AA: What message do you have for the Turkish people?
Sheikh Raed Salah: I love Turkey's people and leadership. I love Turkey and the country's countless mosques. I love Turkey's civil society and honest media. They are part of me and I part of them; we are one, now and forever. Turkey is considered a pillar of the Muslim nation and the Arab world, of which the Palestinian people are a central aspect. Turkey's failed coup bid [on July 15, 2016] was a cheap attempt to seize power and the Turkish people deserve praise for foiling it. I hope Turkey remains a safe haven for rights and justice and a champion of Arab and Muslim causes, especially the issue of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa.