(photo credit: MEMRI)
Raed Salah, the leader of the extremist Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, appeared in court on Wednesday morning and exclaimed, “In spirit and blood we will defend al-Aksa.”
Salah arrived at the Jerusalem District Court for a discussion of his appeal of the 11-month prison sentence he received in March for incitement in a speech he gave in 2007. The court decision on the appeal will be announced in two weeks.
“Whoever thinks that they can scare us by putting us in prison is mistaken,” he said during his appearance.
Joint List MKs, including Ayman Odeh (Hadash), Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al) and Haneen Zoabi (Balad) accompanied Salah to the court.
Tibi told The Jerusalem Post
the attempt to jail Salah is an effort “to exploit the tension and fervor in the street to quickly put Salah in jail as part of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s effort to ban the Islamic Movement.”
Prof. Lawrence Rubin, a Middle East expert from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told the Post
, “This is ‘Salah’s moment’ because his powerful mobilizing symbol for years has been al-Aksa.”
The presence of Arab MKs and other Arab leaders at the hearing enhanced Salah’s claim for leadership of Arab citizens of Israel, said Rubin, wrote an in depth study of the Islamic Movement last year for the Brookings Institution.
“Salah still has to maintain a delicate balance because the Israeli authorities could shut down many of his financial operations he uses to fund his social welfare programs, mosque activities and so on,” he added.
Netanyahu, government officials and others in the media have been pointing their fingers at the Islamic Movement in Israel’s northern branch, connecting it to the recent wave of violence.
A representative of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) told the cabinet on Sunday the Islamic Movement and Hamas were chiefly responsible for the incitement that has led to the upsurge of terrorism, and that both groups reject Israel’s existence.
In an interview on Army Radio on Sunday, the head of the police operations, Asst.-Ch.
Aharon Aksol, said, “These are not spontaneous events, the Northern Branch is a guiding hand.”
Interior Minister Silvan Shalom on Wednesday issued a one-month travel ban on Salah, saying that his leaving Israel could pose a significant threat to the security of Israel. The travel ban expires on November 11th, and also applies to Salah’s deputy.Ben Hartman and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.