Analysis: Switching focus

How the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel has shifted its priorities from Jerusalem to the Palestinian cause.

Sheikh Raed Salah 311 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Sheikh Raed Salah 311
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
The northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, headed by Sheikh Raed Salah, has long been considered an organization that puts the issues of Jerusalem and the defense of the Al- Aqsa Mosque at the forefront of its activity. Recently, however, the movement has expanded its ideological and political focus to the Palestinian cause as a whole – including the Hamas- Palestinian Authority power struggle, the right of return, and negotiations with Israel – and in the process it now embraces and openly supports Hamas’s perception.
In an interview last month with the Islamic Web site Islamonline, Salah described the expansion of the Islamic Movement’s activity from the local level to the overall Palestinian level, and to the global level, saying: “The Islamic Movement and its leadership played a prominent role in the issue of occupied Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. [This role] began to expand from the local level to the overall Palestinian level, and then to the global level – more precisely, in the matter of occupied Al-Quds and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. [The movement’s engaging in the issues of] Al- Quds and Al-Aqsa has opened doors for [the Islamic Movement] to create a global connection in all matters in which the Islamic Movement frequently engages,” which, he says, are Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa, the right of return, breaking the Gaza siege, and “creating a connection with the Arab and Islamic [world] and with humanity in general [in order to] present the just Palestinian position to all people on Earth, and in an attempt to expose the false claims of the Zionist discourse.”
In the same interview, Salah spoke of the pressing need for involvement for the sake of the Palestinian cause, and called for an acknowledgment of the failure of the negotiations with Israel: “The Palestinian cause is currently in a state of regression – which, if it continues, will not bode well.
Therefore, it needs every honest person to act to rescue it from its current distress, and for every honest and ambitious idea to push it forward toward actualizing Palestinian rights, and to help all the principles in the Palestinian cause. Personally, I do not think that I am the one who can implement this, but I do aspire to take part in the collective effort that is now required, with the aim of healing the internal Palestinian fractures and uniting the Palestinian leadership with the Palestinian factions and with the Palestinian public...
"In my opinion, today we need the Palestinian leadership, which has itself chosen the option of negotiations, to boldly come out and say that these negotiations were an illusion, and that although they have continued for two decades they have only set back the Palestinian cause... and that we must go back to the beginning, to collective thought and a collective vision that will unite the leadership, the factions, the Palestinian public, and the various institutions.”
SALAH STATED that the Oslo Accords have led to tragic results for Jerusalem and to Israeli preparations for expelling the “Palestinians of ’48” i.e.
the Palestinians living in the 1948 territories, which is to say the Israeli Arabs, and that this means the revocation of the right of return for refugees: “The Oslo Accords bound the hands of the Palestinian side in all things concerning Al-Quds [Jerusalem], claiming that this issue would be postponed [to the end of the negotiations]... At the same time, it gave the Israeli occupation a free hand to continue its unceasing Judaization of Al-Quds and its holy sites, headed by the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque. It also opened the door to the expulsion of the Palestinians of ’48, and I am not exaggerating – even if this was found out late. That is, one of the long-term ramifications of the Oslo Accords is that the Israeli side has begun to talk about the state as a Jewish [state], and this means two things: First, the closing of [the door] to the right of return and the refugees’ right, and second, the view of the existence of the Palestinians of ’48 on their land, in their homes, and in their holy places as temporary.”
He also said that Israeli moves against the “Palestinians of ’48,” such as the seizure of lands and the destruction of homes, are “preludes to expulsion.”
Salah expressed similar positions in an article titled “The Palestinian Cause Is in Danger,” published in May in the movement organ Sawt Al-Haq Wal-Hurriya, and on In the article, Salah called for renewing the Palestinian cause, and for deciding whether it is strictly a Palestinian cause, a general Arab cause, or an Islamic cause. He also discussed the Palestinian leadership’s proposal to hold PLO elections and to allow all Palestinians, including those living in the diaspora, to directly elect the organization’s leadership – a proposal that corresponds with Hamas’ demand for Palestinian Legislative Council elections and for reorganizing the PLO to represent all Palestinian elements.
In the same context, Salah discussed the conflict between the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip and the Fatah government in the West Bank, and the issue of extending the term of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud ‘Abbas. He wrote: “If we look at the situation since the current schism, we will find that there are two governments and two prime ministers.
There is prime minister Isma’il Haniya, who came after the recent Palestinian elections, and there is Salam Fayyad, who came after the Palestinian schism – and there is the Palestinian constitution. What is the legitimacy of each of these? What is the legitimacy of the decisions that were made and the posts that were distributed? And what is the legitimacy of extending the term of President Mahmoud ‘Abbas?... And what about the legitimacy of the current negotiations, whether direct or indirect, without taking into account [our] fundamental position on these negotiations?...”
While Salah was mildly critical of Abbas’s extended term as Palestinian Authority president, Hamed Aghbariya, editor of the Israeli Arab newspaper Sawt Al-Haq Wal-Hurriya, openly attacked Abbas.
In response to statements Abbas purportedly made at a June 2010 meeting with representatives of the Jewish lobby in the US, in which he said that he did not deny the Jewish people’s right to Israel, Aghbariya wrote: “[Abbas] is not the president of the Palestinian people, not even of part of it. At most, he is chairman of a wretched authority, and his term there ended long ago, but he is still ‘hanging’ from it by a line [thrown him] by the Israeli establishment, by America, and by several Arab regimes.
Therefore, Abbas has no right to speak in the name of the Palestinian people about others’ rights to Palestine – especially after he has so far failed to remove [even] a small military roadblock at the entrance to Ramallah, let alone to actualize any of the rights of the people he claims to represent.”
An example of Salah’s close relationship with Hamas can be seen in Hamas’ reaction to his arrest on charges of attacking an Israeli policeman.
The Hamas-affiliated website devoted an entire special section to the matter, publishing statements of condemnation of the arrest by Hamas officials, and also articles praising Salah. Hamas prime minister Haniya depicted Salah as “someone who bears the honor of the Palestinian people, of the [Arab] nation, of the [Islamic] ummah, and of Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa.”
THE ISLAMIC Movement’s support for Hamas is not only ideological, but political and practical as well. One salient example of this is Salah’s participation in the Freedom Flotilla that sailed from Turkey, with the aim of breaking the Gaza siege which, according to the Islamic Movement, had been imposed “merely because [the people of Gaza] had exercised its free democratic choice.”
Prior to his departure for Turkey, Salah said at an event in Kfar Kanna commemorating what the Palestinians call the ‘Nakba’ [Israel’s establishment in 1948] that the flotilla participants “will come to break the siege on the noble, free, brave, and steadfast Gaza, where [even] the smallest child has succeeded in trampling the American and Zionist terrorism beneath his feet.
Allah willing, in another few days we will see how this siege is broken...”
Salah played a central role in the flotilla, even delivering sermons in support of jihad, according to several people who were also aboard the ship.
For instance, Kuwaiti MP Walid Al- Tabtabai said, after he returned to Kuwait, that Salah had been the “star” of the convoy and had made enthusiastic statements on the trip.
Muhammad Al-Baltaji, deputy secretary- general of the Muslim Brotherhood faction in the Egypt parliament, reported that on the night that Israeli forces raided the ships, several clerics delivered sermons that fired up the passengers. Salah, he said, related a hadith in which Muhammad explained the virtue of jihad and of the ribat [a border region of the Islamic world where Muslims set out to fight non-Muslims] in Ashkelon. Al- Baltaji added that Salah considered Gaza to be part of Ashkelon.
The writer is a research fellow at MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, for whom this article was written.

It is printed here by permission.