The latest unjust sentence imposed on Sheikh Raed Salah does not intend to punish the man personally. It is actually part of a series of successive measures taken against the Sheikh and the Islamic Movement in the Palestinian territories occupied in 1948, as well as against all of the Palestinians in those territories, because of the concerns that they raise amongst those behind the occupation.
The most recent judgement against the Sheikh came after multiple rulings against him so that he is barely released from prison before being imprisoned again. This judgement came years after Israel’s banning of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, and also after several discriminatory laws were passed, the most recent of which was the Nation-State law, including the legislation banning any commemoration of the Nakba, passed eight years ago, and other instruments of Israeli Apartheid.
At the same time, the Israeli occupation is cracking down on the Palestinian people of occupied Jerusalem, targeting them exactly as harshly as it does the Palestinians in the territories occupied in 1948. This is despite the different legal status of the two groups (as if the occupation recognises or follows any laws). The occupation focuses on cracking-down on construction, entry to Al-Aqsa Mosque, education, freedom of movement and countless other matters and actions.
Perhaps the high frequency of these measures is driven by two factors. The first is the increased influence of the racist right wing amongst voters in Israel, which leads to government measures to please voters and gain better results in the elections. The second is the rising Palestinian population in Jerusalem and the territories occupied in 1948, which threatens the demographic “balance”, according to Israeli viewpoints, in the historical land of Palestine.
While these arbitrary measures show the true image of the occupation, they also show the importance of Sheikh Raed Salah, and all the activities and presence of the Palestinian people in the territories occupied in 1948, and in occupied Jerusalem as well. If they weren’t of any significance, such racist measures would not be taken against them, nor would Israel have devoted all of its racist, security and legal tools to persecute them and make their lives miserable.
The importance of the Palestinians in these areas stems first from their mere presence and steadfastness in their homes, because they are exposing the Zionist narrative that this land had no people and no history other than the “history of Jewish existence”. Hence, by remaining in their land they help to disprove this propaganda.
Historians, including the Jewish “New Historians”, have acknowledged that the Zionist terror gangs deliberately displaced Palestinians from their villages and cities during the war in 1947 and 1948 by committing massacres, intimidation and terrorism. No longer a left-winger and now with right-wing Zionist ideas, one of the New Historians, Benny Morris, has said that Ben-Gurion was wrong not complete the displacement of the 160,000 Palestinians who remained in their land in 1948.
Based on this, we can recognise clearly the importance of the Palestinians remaining in their land, despite all the challenges, and the importance of preserving their language and religion (whether Islam or Christianity) in the face of the overt Judaisation and “Hebraisation” efforts by the occupation state. We can also understand the cause of the racist Zionist campaign that targets them daily.
Sheikh Raed Salah, his movement and the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, are gaining added importance because they are revealing the true face of the occupation. While the latter tries to export its false narrative that it is a “democratic state”, the measures that the Palestinians in the 1948-occupied territory are subjected to because of their resistance to the occupation reveals the falsehoods and decline of Zionist propaganda.
Another aspect that illustrates the importance of Sheikh Raed Salah and the bodies that work with him in the territories occupied since 1948, is the permanent presence of the activists in Jerusalem to protect the Muslim and Christian holy sites, either individually or through initiatives like Al-Bayarik which encourage people to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque and stay there. We can judge the importance of this when we realise that their presence in Al-Aqsa effectively prevents the Israeli occupation authorities from their plan to divide the mosque between Muslim worshippers and Jewish settlers. We can only imagine how easy this would be without the efforts of the Palestinians from these areas to fill the mosque and cooperate with the Jordanian Ministry of Religious Endowments (Awqaf) to carry out this task.
Israel wants to implement as much of its Judaisation masterplan for Jerusalem as it can, as well as its racist measures to remove the indigenous people from the Palestinian territories, in light of regional Arab weakness and, at times, complicity. Herein lies the importance of those who continue to hold on to the history, identity and cause of the Palestinians. This is the sole reason why the occupation authorities fight them with all their might.
The Zionist colonial-settler state wants to turn the Palestinians into Native Americans in their own country, but they have been and will remain Palestinians. They alone can protect their existence and prevent Israel from controlling their history and the future of their children. Such is the importance of Sheikh Raed Salah and the Palestinians in Israel.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 2 December 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.