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Israeli court sentences northern Islamic movement leader to 11 months in jail

Sheikh Raed Salah's lawyers have 45 days to appeal incitement to violence verdict based on a speech he gave in 2007
Sheikh Raed Salah arrives at a Jerusalem court on 4 March, 2014, for his hearing (AFP)

An Israeli court sentenced Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic movement in Israel to 11 months in prison for “inciting violence” during a mosque sermon he gave in 2007.

Salah was also handed a suspended three-month jail sentence. The court decided to postpone the implementation of the resolution against Sheikh Salah for 45 days, to provide an opportunity for his lawyers to appeal the decision.

Dozens of Salah’s supporters gathered outside the court as the sentence was read out. A number of Israeli right-wing activists were also outside, chanting against Salah but Israeli authorities did not let the right-wingers get near the Palestinians.

Tawfiq Mohammed, the media coordinator for the Islamic movement, told the Middle East Eye that the Israeli courts pursued Salah as political prosecution for his activism and the influence he wields.

“There is no doubt that the Israeli authorities persecute Sheikh Raed based on political motivations,” Mohammed said. “But this is the price we Palestinians have to pay for challenging Israel.”

Mohammed pointed to how outgoing Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, the head of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beteinu, called for the beheading of Palestinian citizens who were not loyal to the state of Israel.

“What he said did not differ from what Daesh does,” he said, referring to the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. “But of course he did not get indicted for violence or racism.”

Salah had arrived to Jerusalem on Friday 16 February with hundreds of his supporters from his hometown of Umm al-Fahem. Due to a restraining order that barred him from coming within 150 meters of the Old City, Salah delivered his sermon in Wadi Joz, a neighbourhood just north of the walled city.

His visit came against the backdrop of Israel demolishing historical sites around the al-Aqsa Compound, which Muslims consider as the third holiest site. A week earlier on 6 February, Israel had demolished the Magharba Gate Road, which led to the compound.

In 2013, he was acquitted of charges inciting to racism but was convicted of incitement of violence, for which he was sentenced 8 months in prison by the Magistrate Court. His lawyers appealed the verdict and the court today upheld the ruling.

Salah’s fiery speech was directed at the threat he said Israel posed to the al-Aqsa Mosque.

"The Israeli establishment wants to build a temple that will be used to pray to God. It is so impudent and such a liar," Salah said in the sermon, according to the indictment. "Someone who wants to build a house of God cannot when our blood is still on his clothing, our blood is still on his doors, our blood is in his food and in his drink. And our blood goes from one terrorist general to another."

Based on those words, he was charged with incitement to violence.

Mohammed said that Salah’s lawyers are intending to appeal the ruling within the prescribed 45 days.

“They will appeal to the district court based on the current verdict,” he said, “and later, they will ask permission to appeal to the Supreme Court against the convictions against Sheikh Raed.”

Zahi Nujidat, a lawyer and spokesman for the Islamic movement, told media that "Every month, every week, every day Sheikh Raed spends in prison is injustice. The real crime is the occupation."