Sheikh Raed Salah 311.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Shock, confusion, and anger gripped the corridors of Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv on Monday, as rumors swirled that Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, was wounded or killed in the IDF raid on the Gaza flotilla early Monday morning.
By Monday evening, security services had confirmed that Salah was alive and still on the Mavi Marmara passenger ship, possibly suffering from minor injuries. The confirmation came hours after rumors of Salah’s demise had run wild through Arab communities across Israel, as followers of Salah feared the worst and police braced for major riots.
By late Monday morning, hundreds of supporters, relatives, and associates had arrived at the trauma ward of Sheba Medical Center, including Salah’s wife, brother, and several close associates. Despite their closeness to the sheikh, none of them had any notion of his whereabouts or physical condition, and all said that they had not heard from him since he set sail with the Gaza flotilla last week.
In the corridor outside the operating room, hundreds of Arab Israelis, most of them men, waited in near silence for some news. Most appeared crestfallen and angry, and a number appeared to have tears in their eyes. In front of the supporters stood a number of officers from the elite Yassam police anti-riot unit who kept them from entering the operating room.
At the same time that rumors were circulating that the man inside the trauma unit was Salah, doctors were treating two IDF soldiers seriously wounded during the takeover. At one point, IDF chief Rabbi Avichai Ronsky walked through the crowd of Salah’s supporters, after visiting with families of the wounded soldiers. Earlier, a verbal altercation broke out between families of the soldiers and supporters of Salah, and police stepped in to prevent the situation from becoming violent.
In the late morning a police crime scene unit arrived in order to do fingerprint exams on the man believed to be Salah. Following the tests, which proved negative, Sheba Medical Center officials took Salah’s wife and brother into the operating room to see the seriously wounded man, believed to be a Turkish citizen who resembled Salah. Following the visit, both told supporters and the reporters present that the man in question was not the leader of the Islamic Movement.
In spite of such reports, supporters remained at the hospital for
hours, with many saying that they believed authorities were hiding the
truth to stave off protests in the Arab sector.
Mustafa Mohajni, a former member of the Umm el-Fahm council, came to
the hospital and told reporters “we have no idea where the sheikh is,
we have no idea whatsoever what is going on. The police, the army, no
one is telling us anything. Why don’t they tell us what is happening?
Why won’t they try to calm the situation?”
Umm el-Fahm is home to the headquarters of the Northern Branch of the
Islamic Movement and Salah was once mayor of the city. The city saw
protests and clashes with police throughout the day Monday following
the news of the deadly raid on the Gaza flotilla.
In 2003, Salah was arrested and jailed for raising money for Hamas. He was released in 2005.