The incendiary leader of the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch is posing a growing challenge to the security authorities.
Sheikh Raed Salah 311.
(photo credit:Ben Hartman)
Umm el-Fahm – the heartland of the Islamic Movement’s Northern Branch – was on
the verge of full scale rioting in the hours after the Gaza flotilla
False rumors saying that its head, Sheikh Raed Salah, had died
aboard the Mavi Marmara led dozens of masked youths to hurl stones at border
policemen in Umm El-Fahm on May 31.
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“If it turns out Sheikh Salah is
injured, there will be big problems here and across the Arab areas,”
Ibrahim Mahajane, a young resident of the town, as he looked at the
unfolding. “Salah is our leader, not just here, but for all the Arabs in
Salah later returned to a hero’s welcome in the Galilee town,
and delivered a characteristically fiery speech in which he predicted
“Zionism would end in Turkey.”
Founded in 1971 by Sheikh Abdullah Nimr
Darwish, the Islamic Movement has become a dominant force within the
community, pushing aside secular Arab nationalist movements and
In 1996, the movement split into two factions over
the question of whether to participate in the general elections. The
the creation of a more moderate Southern Branch, which is represented by
Knesset members. The Northern Branch, under Salah’s leadership, refuses
partake in Israeli democracy.
Throughout the 1990s, the Shin Bet (Israel
Security Agency) monitored and closed down front organizations run by
Northern Branch, which were disguised as charities and transferred funds
Hamas in the West Bank. Today, the Shin Bet continues to closely watch
Northern Branch and Salah.
Salah, who has served time in prison for
transferring funds to Hamas, and who is arrested periodically and banned
Jerusalem for incitement to violence, leads an organization described by
security experts as the Muslim Brotherhood in Israel.
Movement is a faction of the regional Muslim Brotherhood organization.
therefore the sister movement of Hamas,” said Ely Karmon, a senior
expert at the Institute for Counterterrorism in Herzliya’s
“It operates like Hamas did before 1987, before the first
intifada broke out and Hamas made a strategic decision to switch to
The Islamic Movement’s current goals are to indoctrinate
Israeli Arabs with Islamist ideology (an effort the Movement calls
da’wa) and to
confront Israel on the rhetorical battlefield.
Salah, an expert media
manipulator, will rarely allow more than a few weeks to go by before
that his name or that of his movement are in the headlines. Last week, a
delegation of the Islamic Movement headed by deputy leader Sheikh Kamal
visited injured IHH members in a Turkish hospital. The visit followed
calls by Salah for more flotillas to be sent to Gaza and vows that he
board future ships. Earlier this month, far-left activist Tali Fahima,
served time in prison for passing on illegal information to Fatah Aksa
Brigade commander Zakaria Zubeidi, converted to Islam in Umm el-Fahm
contacted by the Islamic Movement’s Sheikh Yussuf Elbaz.
Movement’s da’wa system and its principles are completely identical to
Hamas, and derive from the Muslim Brotherhood,” Reuven Paz, director of
Project for the Research of Islamist Movements at the Gloria Center,
the IDC, said.
At the same time, he added, the Northern Branch does not
encourage acts of terrorism “and attempts to operate as much as it can
the framework of the law. In certain actions, it stretches the limits
violates the law, but only within the context of demonstrations and
activities. Even then, these are mainly the personal acts of... Sheikh
The Islamic Movement cannot be described as preparing a
generation of jihadis, but can be said to be instilling attitudes within
Arabs that lead them to oppose Israel’s existence as a Jewish state,
But while the movement has not become a full-fledged terrorist
organization, it has played a key role in encouraging violence, and was
the events that led up to the outbreak of the second intifada, Karmon
“In the 1990s, the Islamic Movement created an enormous
underground mosque on the Temple Mount [in Solomon’s Stables], while
claiming that Israel was seeking to destroy the Aksa Mosque. This is why
second intifada is called the Aksa intifada,” Karmon pointed out. The
Movement incited Palestinians and Israeli Arabs to violence, he
Within Israel, one of the results of such incitement was the
October 2000 clashes in the Wadi Ara region between Israeli Arabs and
which 13 protesters were shot dead. “At that time, the government and
not know how to deal with the movement,” Karmon said.
played an important role in the flotilla clashes, Karmon added. “He
Turkish IHH members, who later initiated violent action against IDF
systematically confronts security personnel and the political
Salah is a saboteur who seeks the destruction of Israel as a
Jewish state. His incitement is very severe, and his movement is very
Paz said the Northern Branch did “endanger Israel’s security
to a certain degree,” but added that its chances of recruiting the
Israeli Arabs to the cause anti-Israel political action “are quite
“Most of its subversive efforts have in recent years been directed
toward Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. But there too, it does not form a
The fact that the Northern Branch boycotts the elections to the
Knesset as a matter of principle also lowers the threat that it could
its influence,” Paz continued.
Israel has so far refrained from outlawing
the organization. “At this stage in its activities, I do not see a need
outlaw the Northern Branch,” Paz said. “I assume that, ahead of the next
elections, right-wing circles will urge such action... [but] if the
the branch’s activities does not change beyond what they are today, I
that the High Court would reject such an initiative.”
For now, the
authorities are attempting to keep Salah and his organization under
without falling into the publicity stunt traps he appears to be setting
state. Police and Shin Bet officials regularly meet to discuss the
Movement’s activities, and have in the past equated the Northern
activities with actions by Hamas.
Karmon, on the other hand, believes
that the time has come to outlaw the Northern Branch. “In Spain, a
state, ETA and all of its front groups have been outlawed. Even ETA
who protested outside Spanish prisons against the incarceration of ETA
were sent to prison. I see no reason why the same thing can’t happen