Islamic Movement vows to continue defending Muslim holy sites

Following police raid on their offices, Members of the Al-Aksa Institute maintain they have done nothing wrong.

Jerusalem old city 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Jerusalem old city 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Leaders of the Islamic Movement vowed on Sunday to continue to preserve and defend Muslim holy sites "according to the law" - hours after Israeli security services raided and then sealed the offices of one of its institutions, charging the organization had links to Hamas. Members of the Al-Aksa Institute, who maintain they have done nothing wrong, said Israeli security officials confiscated thousands of files, office equipment, documents of holy sites, maps and photos from its Umm el-Fahm office as well as about NIS 300,000 in a raid late Saturday night. They say an additional NIS 670,000 were frozen from the institution's bank accounts. Sheikh Ali Abu Sheikha, chairman of the Al-Aksa Institute, denied his organization had unlawful ties to Hamas - whether financial or otherwise. "The society deals only with sites of consecration exclusively, mosques and cemeteries only, not more than this," Sheikha said following a press conference by movement leaders outside the institution. "It doesn't deal with any one, it doesn't deal with aid, it doesn't help families... only the protection and rehabilitation of holy places and mosques," and only inside Israel, not in the Palestinian territories, he added. "The institution didn't help Hamas," he added. "We didn't help anyone. Our money was from donations... that we gave to the holy sites." Sheikha said that his home in Kfar Ara was also raided late Saturday and early Sunday by dozens of security officials, who "turned over the whole house" and confiscated documents as well as NIS 248,000 of his personal money that he had stored in a safe. "The message is that we will continue to preserve the holy places because this is our identity, and regarding our identity, we don't give in, especially concerning Al-Aksa Mosque," said Zahy Nujeidat, spokesman of the Islamic Movement. "It's an Islamic place." Islamic Movement leaders say they suspect the raid took place in response to a press conference they held on August 12 in Jerusalem, in which they say they "revealed" government plans to build at least one synagogue near al-Aksa. "The information that is already being broadcast from the Al-Aksa Institute is already interrupting the formal plans of the Israeli establishment," Nujeidat said. Abed Elmajeed, a spokesman for the Al-Aksa Institute, said members would persist in pursuing its work and its projects as usual, but under a different name. Dan Schueftan, a political science professor at the University of Haifa, said it is clear that the Islamic movement has "a deep sympathy to other radical Islamic movements, including Hamas... and its support for their struggle against Israel." But, he added, "The problem is not in knowing what the Islamic movement supports and not in knowing what their support is used for, the problem is proving it beyond the reasonable doubt that the judge would support," he said. "They are very careful to walk this very narrow path between what everyone knows they are doing and what you can judicially prove they are doing." The fact that the raids have taken place indicates that Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) officials believe they can prove something, he added. The Islamic Movement in Israel is split between two factions, the more radical northern branch, led by Sheikh Raed Salah of Umm el-Fahm, and the southern branch, headed by Abdullah Nimr Darwish of Kafr Kassem. The northern faction, which is the branch that dominates in Umm el-Fahm, does not participate in national elections for ideological reasons.