On 15 August, the Israeli occupation police raided Umm Al-Fahm, the second largest Arab city in Israel, broke into the house of Shaikh Raed Salah and detained him for questioning. The Israeli courts extended his detention several times until the Public Prosecutor filed an indictment against the veteran community leader. It was decided that he would be remanded in custody until the legal procedures came to a conclusion.
This is not the first time that Shaikh Raed has been detained, indicted and held for various terms behind bars as a result of Israel’s false claims. Following this latest detention, the Times of Israel reported that Jewish Israeli politicians from the left and right celebrated the Shaikh’s detention. Prior to this, Israeli Minister Yisrael Katz threatened to arrest him and send him into exile.
Jewish Israelis celebrate the detention of Shaikh Raed Salah because he is the main obstacle to their Judaising projects in the holy city of Jerusalem, mainly at Al-Aqsa Mosque. The mosque’s defence is a cause for which the Shaikh is renowned. After serving as the Mayor of Umm Al-Fahm between 1989 and 2001, he stepped down voluntarily in order to dedicate his time to defending the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa.
Shaikh Salah transformed Umm Al-Fahm from a communist powerhouse to the stronghold of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement. In 1996, he started to organise an annual rally under the slogan “Al-Aqsa Mosque is in Danger”, during which he would highlight the dangers of Judaising Jerusalem’s Old City; he also exposed the threat imposed by Israel’s supposed “archaeological” excavations beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque. This rally was held every year until 2015, when the Islamic Movement was outlawed by the Israeli government.
According to the Chairman of Al-Quds Committee of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Shaikh Ahmed Al-Omari, the Israeli occupation authorities detained Shaikh Salah due to his role in exposing the Israeli tunnels beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque, which damage the foundations of the structure. “He was the first to raise the issue and highlight the fact that Al-Aqsa is in danger,” Al-Omari explained.
Known worldwide amongst Muslims as Shaikh Al-Aqsa, Salah has dedicated himself to undermine Jewish Israeli plans to change the status quo in Al-Aqsa Mosque. He has raised funds for projects within Al-Aqsa compound, including the provision of meals for Muslims to break their fast during Ramadhan, Sharia classes and similar activities to maintain the Palestinian presence in the mosque as much as possible.
On 14 July, three Palestinians attacked and killed two Israeli policemen inside the Noble Sanctuary before being shot dead themselves. As well as punishing the attackers’ families, the Israeli occupation authorities decided to install electronic metal detectors, cameras and other surveillance equipment at the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque, triggering widespread protests. Shaikh Salah played a major role in mobilising Palestinians across the occupied territories and within Israel itself to take part in these protests, which ended with a clear victory.
When he was detained in August, Shaikh Raed Salah said that his detention was “political” and “part of the Israeli pursuit of Arab Muslims” in Israel. Mohammed Barakeh, the chairman of the Higher Committee for the Arab Citizens of Israel — who form 20 per cent of the population of the self-proclaimed “Jewish” state — told Al Jazeera that Salah’s detention “is a kind of anti-democratic act to put the Arab population in Israel under pressure.”
The Israeli authorities announced that the current indictment filed against Salah included claims of “incitement” made during Friday speeches and discourses delivered to protesters. The Shaikh’s lawyer, Mustafa Suhail, said that the Israeli indictment against his client “is based on a political decision which has nothing to do with law.” He suggested that Shaikh Salah was prosecuted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the local media before he had been indicted.
In the wake of Netanyahu’s decision to remove the electronic detectors and cameras at the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israel decided to work beneath the radar on its Judaisation of the sanctuary; to do this, the occupation authorities needed to suppress the people who exposed their plans. They decided not only to detain Shaikh Raed Salah but also treat him harshly in the process. “In what age are we living?” he asked rhetorically. “The pharaohs are no longer with us and we are not in the middle ages any longer.”
His influential mobilisation of the people in support of Al-Aqsa Mosque and his clear influence amongst Muslims have seen Shaikh Salah targeted by Israel for assassination attempts. In 2010, he was on board the Mavi Marmara in the Freedom Flotilla trying to break the siege of the Gaza Strip; he is convinced that the Israeli commandos who stormed the ship mistook a 60-year-old Turkish man for himself and shot him at point blank range. Two months later, Jonathan Cook wrote an article for Electronic Intifada in which he revealed an Israeli plan to murder Shaikh Salah, who is even loathed by Israeli rights groups.
Whether Shaikh Salah is alive or dead, the Israeli occupation authorities believe that he must be isolated from the public if they are to complete their Judaisation of Al-Aqsa Mosque. There are many Palestinian and international bodies which are dedicated to protecting Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, but none have been able to halt the Judaisation of Islam’s third holiest site and aggression against Muslims worshipping in the compound.
The Israeli police recently installed CCTV cameras at the gates of Al-Aqsa Mosque and only a few unheard voices said anything. This suggests that the objective of isolating Shaikh Raed Salah has been effective in silencing opposition to the Judaisation of the Noble Sanctuary. Israeli is preparing for a massive Judaisation project in Jerusalem, which should have been put to the vote last week but was delayed in order to be amended so that it does not attract international criticism.
Keeping Shaikh Salah and his kind isolated from the world helps the Israeli occupation authorities to carry on with their illegal Judaisation projects. Thus they will be able to partition Al-Aqsa Mosque as they have done with the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, in relative silence and without being seriously condemned. Shaikh Raed Salah stands between Israel and its nefarious plans for Al-Aqsa Mosque; that is why he is being held in custody.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.