Police raid Islamic Movement's northern branch offices.
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
The cabinet decision to outlaw the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement is controversial and can backfire in the long run. Democracy has the right to defend itself from the enemies from within who exploit democratic values. Yet was it wise to ban the group? For years consecutive Israeli governments deliberated whether to ban the group and time and again decided against such a move. The governments accepted the recommendation of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) not to do so. The Shin Bet is in charge of counterterrorism and monitoring political subversion and incitement. The agency has not changed its view.
The Islamic Movement, whose roots are in British Palestine, was established in 1971 by Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish, who had served a prison term for security offenses. The movement was to operate in three areas – religious education, social work and charity, and politics. In 1994, after Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords, the movement was split between the southern branch, which supported the peace process and showed political moderation, and the northern faction led by the charismatic Sheikh Raed Salah.
In practical terms the Northern Branch is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and in recent years it has become radicalized by forming close ties with Hamas. The Northern Branch has received financial contributions from funds, individuals, and charitable organizations in the Arab world and elsewhere associated or identified with Hamas. Its leader, Salah, has positioned himself as the guardian and champion of the Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount, accusing Israel of attempts to “Judaize” the holy place.
Despite provocative actions taken by right-wing ministers and members of Knesset to increase the Jewish presence on the Mount, the prime minister and defense minister made it clear that Israel is committed to the status quo, which recognizes Muslim rights and the role of Jordan in maintaining and managing the shrines on the Mount.
Nevertheless Salah's sermons and allocation of funds “to defend” al-Aksa did not fall on deaf ears. They helped to rally Palestinians to protest against Israel and contributed to the current wave of violence and terrorism which doesn’t seem to be fading away.
The Shin Bet was against the banning of Northern Branch, because it fears the faction and its members will not be deterred and continue under different names to carry on their extremist message.
Another concern is that the decision will generate a strong protest from the general Israeli Arab public – a general strike was declared for Thursday – and will increase the support for the movement’s ideas and its appeal among the mainstream.
But the Shin Bet’s nightmare is that, by outlawing the group, its hard-core activists will undergo a further process of radicalization, go underground, and establish secret cells to employ terrorism and violence. Thus it will be more difficult to monitor and counter.
On Wednesday six Israeli Arabs from the village of Jaljulya in central Israel were indicted for forming an IS cell and planning to join the war in Syria. In the last two years some 50 mainly young Israel Arabs infiltrated Syria or planned to go there or engaged in pro-IS activities.
The Shin Bet thwarted most of these attempts and arrested the activists. The cabinet decision may increase this trend.
Yet despite the Shin Bet’s reservations, the cabinet adopted a resolution that is primarily a political one and its timing coincides or even takes advantage of the worldwide fear of radical Islam after the Paris terrorist attacks.