Leader of the northern Islamic Movement Sheikh Raed Salah gestures after leaving the district court in Jerusalem October 27, 2015..
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Leader of the extremist Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, began serving a nine-month jail sentence on Sunday following his conviction last March on charges of incitement.
The High Court of Justice rejected his appeal against the conviction, though it shortened his sentence from eleven months to nine for incitement in a 2007 speech.
“If they force me to choose between prison and the surrender of Jerusalem and al-Aksa Mosque, then I will go to jail,” said Salah according to Army Radio.
“I go to jail because of the will of God and not the will of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. It is an honor to me,” he said.
Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday, “I see this as an integral part of Israeli authorities targeting Arab leaders and Arab activists in recent years and restricting their political actions.”
“Raed’s statements should be protected under freedom of speech,” he said.
“In fact, Arab minority leaders should be guaranteed a much broader space of political activities and of voicing their critique against the government,” argued Jabareen.
High Court Justice Salim Joubran said that he believed Salah's conviction for incitement to racism should remain, but he should be acquitted of charges of incitement to violence. He also suggested his sentence be reduced to six months community service.
The two other court justices decided that all of his original convictions should remain, however agreed to have his prison term shortened.
Last month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Salah's jailing ahead of Passover with concern that in Jerusalem the holiday could trigger violence around the Temple Mount as Jews flocked to the Western Wall for prayer.
“We are seeing efforts by Raed Salah to heat up the Temple Mount area before Passover,” Netanyahu said in April. “This man is a one-man explosive.”
Calling for the security forces and the judiciary to “distance him,” Netanyahu said Salah should long ago have been put behind bars.
Israel outlawed Salah’s group in November, with a government statement explaining that the group has for years “been waging a campaign of deceitful incitement under the banner of ‘al-Aksa is in danger,’ which blames Israel by falsely accusing it of intending to harm the Aksa Mosque and to violate the status quo there.”Herb Keinon contributed to this report.