Banning the northern Islamic Movement Demonstrates that for Arabs Israel is no Democracy

Banning the northern Islamic Movement Demonstrates that for Arabs Israel is no Democracy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Post-Blog

Demonstration against the banning of the northern wing of the Islamic Movement

Netanyahu decided on November 17th to ban
the northern wing of the Islamic Movement. 
A movement which is supported by about half of Israeli Palestinians.  Netanyahu did this for nakedly political
reasons, as Jonathan Cook shows in his article below. 

Raed Salah outside Jerusalem District Court
There isn’t an iota of proof that the Islamic
Movement is involved or has been involved in violent or ‘terrorist’
activities.  It is a nakedly racist and
undemocratic decision which gives the lie to any pretence that Israel is a
democratic state. 
Suffice to say the Israeli Labour Party/Zionist Union
and the ‘centrist’ Yesh Atid both supported the decision to ban the Islamic
Movement’s northern branch.
Tony Greenstein 
Demonstration against the banning of the northern wing of the Islamic movement

Behind the Ban on the Islamic Movement in Israel

by Jonathan Cook | published January 11, 2016
For
background on the situation of Palestinian citizens of Israel, see Jonathan
Cook, “The Myth of Israel’s Liberal Supreme Court
Exposed
,” Middle East Report Online, February
23, 2012, and “Israel’s Palestinian Minority Thrown Into a Maelstrom,” Middle East Report Online, June 6, 2010.
Demonstration in Umm al-Fahm
The
decision to outlaw the northern wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel was
announced by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on November 17, 2015, days after
attacks claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, left 130 dead
in Paris. Although the ban had been long in the making, the timing was patently
opportunistic, with Netanyahu even comparing Israel’s Islamic Movement to ISIS.
It is still unclear how the Israeli intelligence services and police will
enforce the ban, given that the group has thousands of paid-up members among
Israel’s large Palestinian minority, and ties to welfare associations and
charities in Palestinian communities across Israel. The movement’s leader,
Sheikh Ra’id Salah, has vowed to carry on, declaring: “The movement is not a
passing phenomenon but one with deep roots everywhere.”
protest outside US embassy in Tel Aviv
The
only person arrested so far, more than a month on, is not Salah, but a 64-year
old female resident of East Jerusalem. Zinat Jallad was brought to court on
December 11, accused of belonging both to the Islamic Movement and to the
Murabitat (Defenders of Islam). The latter group comprises women who study and
pray at the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, a compound in Jerusalem’s Old
City that contains the al-Aqsa Mosque and the gold-topped Dome of the Rock
shrine. To Jews, it is known as the Temple Mount, after two long-lost temples
that they believe lie beneath the esplanade. The Murabitat and an associated
group of men known as the Murabitun were declared illegal organizations by Netanyahu’s government in September, as a prelude to the crackdown on the
northern Islamic Movement. The groups, established in 2012, were accused by
Netanyahu of acting as Salah’s agents at al-Aqsa.
Raed Salah in court in Jerusalem
The
prohibition on the Islamic Movement was formally issued by the defense
minister, Moshe Yaalon, based on emergency regulations inherited from the
British Mandatory authorities. But the driving force was Netanyahu himself and
his strong antipathy to Salah and his activities at al-Aqsa. After weeks of
unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank that began in the late summer of 2015,
Netanyahu held a press conference in early October in which he stated: “We are
in the midst of a wave of terrorism with knives, firebombs, rocks and even live
fire. While these acts are mostly unorganized, they are all the result of wild
and mendacious incitement by Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, several
countries in the region and—no less and frequently much more—the Islamic
Movement in Israel, which is igniting the ground with lies regarding our policy
on the Temple Mount.”
Right-wing Zionists demonstrating outside Raed Salah’s trial
A
month later Netanyahu’s office announced the outlawing of the movement,
claiming it was required “in the name of state security, public safety and
public order,
” and as a “vital step to prevent the loss of life.” Officials
also declared Salah’s movement a “sister” organization of Hamas, arguing that
there was “close and secret” cooperation between them. No evidence was
provided.
Netanyahu’s
efforts to blame “incitement” from the Islamic Movement for Palestinian
protests and sporadic attacks conflicted with the advice he was receiving from
his intelligence services. In early November, shortly before the ban was
announced, Herzi Halevi, head of military intelligence, told the cabinet that a
mix of “despair” and a sense that that they had “nothing to lose,” and to a
lesser extent what he termed “incitement” from social media, were the factors
driving Palestinians to carry out “terror” attacks. He did not mention the
Islamic Movement. The domestic intelligence service, the Shinbet, concurred. A
report issued a week before the outlawing of Salah’s movement concluded that
Palestinian attackers were chiefly motivated by “feelings of national, economic
and personal deprivation.”
Behind
the scenes, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported, the Shinbet had advised
Netanyahu that there was no evidence linking the Islamic Movement to terror
attacks and that it was operating within the law. The Shinbet’s head, Yoram
Cohen, was also known to have lobbied the cabinet against the ban, warning that
it was likely to be interpreted as a declaration of war not only on Salah’s
movement but also on the Muslim community in Israel generally, as well as an
assault on the wider political rights of the Palestinian minority.
Facts on Jerusalem’s Ground
The
security services began scrutinizing Salah’s organization from the moment of
its birth in 1996, when it broke away from the rest of the Islamic Movement,
Israel’s branch of the Society of Muslim Brothers. The split had been provoked
by the Oslo accords concluded three years earlier. Salah, along with Hamas in
the occupied Palestinian territories, rejected the terms of a diplomatic
process premised on a two-state solution, fearing that it would be seen
implicitly to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Further, Salah, then mayor of
Umm al-Fahm, vehemently opposed the decision of the rest of the movement, now
labeled the southern wing, to participate in Israel’s parliamentary elections.
But unlike Hamas, Salah made clear he eschewed violence, arguing that the
struggle from within Israel must take a different form.
Instead
Salah pursued a strategy familiar to other marginalized Muslim Brother
movements, concentrating his energies on building up a network of charities and
welfare associations—including kindergartens, health clinics, sports
associations and cultural centers—in some of the poorest Palestinian
communities in Israel. The northern wing’s good works, and Salah’s quiet
charisma, soon won it support. More significantly, Salah recruited a large
following by turning the Haram al-Sharif into a political project for Israel’s
Palestinian minority, 1.6 million citizens comprising a fifth of the
population.
Salah
was quick to recognize the dangers implicit in the Oslo accords for al-Aqsa and
the surrounding esplanade. The re-partition of historical Palestine assumed to
be at the heart of the new diplomatic initiative would be most hotly contested
in Jerusalem. It was generally assumed that the eastern sections of the city,
occupied by Israel in 1967, would become part of the Palestinian state presaged
by Yasser Arafat and the PLO’s return to the West Bank and Gaza. But Salah,
unlike the newly established Palestinian leadership in the Occupied
Territories, believed Israel was likely to respond to the Oslo process by
intensifying its Judaization policies in East Jerusalem rather than conceding
it as a capital of a future Palestinian state.
Just
as Oslo witnessed a rapid expansion of Jewish colonization of the West Bank,
with settlers running to “seize the hilltops,” as Israeli
general-turned-politician Ariel Sharon commanded, it also unleashed a new
urgency to create facts on the ground in Jerusalem. In 1996, the year the
northern Islamic Movement was born, Netanyahu, in his first term as prime
minister, authorized the opening of the Western Wall tunnels. These extensive
excavations ran close by the al-Aqsa compound and triggered Palestinian riots
and a lethal response from Israeli security forces. Those confrontations were
the bloodiest since the conclusion of the Oslo accords.
With
the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, the holy esplanade had acquired an
ever-greater centrality in the thinking of both religious and secular Jews. The
Temple Mount served a useful political purpose: It was a symbol that brought
the religious and secular populations closer together by blurring the
differences between them. Control over the Temple Mount could exemplify both
the rebirth of God’s plan in the Promised Land and the reassertion in the
Middle East of the earthly powers of a long-exiled people. As Israeli
politicians cultivated a popular attachment to the Temple Mount, it soon came
to serve a totemic function none of them could afford to be seen neglecting.
At
the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000, the presumed conclusion of the
Oslo process, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak staked Israel’s claim to
sovereignty over al-Aqsa in front of President Bill Clinton. Contrary to
popular perception of a flexible and “generous” Israeli approach, Barak was
reported by his own advisers to have “blown up” the negotiations on this single
issue.
Off Limits
Salah
and the northern Islamic Movement not only identified Israel’s increasingly
aggressive ambitions toward al-Aqsa, but also the lack of a credible
Palestinian or Islamic response. Over time, the northern Islamic Movement
stepped in to fill an organizational and strategic void at al-Aqsa that grew
ever more apparent after the signing of the Oslo accords.
Following
Israel’s seizure of East Jerusalem in 1967 and the Palestinian city’s
annexation, formal control over al-Aqsa remained with the waqf, an
Islamic authority controlled by Jordan. But with Oslo’s establishment of a
Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat in the territories, Israel gradually
exploited the weakening lines of authority at the esplanade to undermine the
roles of both the PA and Jordan. After the outbreak of the second intifada,
Israel moved swiftly to bar the PA from Jerusalem entirely; and with diplomatic
relations deteriorating, Jordan could exercise its power only at arm’s length.
The
partition principle inherent in Oslo—and enforced one-sidedly by Israel—added
to the isolation of the holy esplanade. While settlers moved into the Occupied
Territories in greater numbers than ever, Palestinians found themselves
increasingly locked into ghettoes. Permits and checkpoints limited movement
through the 1990s, culminating in the construction of a massive separation
barrier from 2003. Jerusalem became off limits to most Palestinians in the West
Bank and Gaza. And in turn, that meant few could reach al-Aqsa to pray.
It
was in this atmosphere, in late 2000, as the holy esplanade (and, indeed, all
of East Jerusalem) was being physically separated from its Palestinian
hinterland, that Sharon made his incendiary visit to al-Aqsa, backed by
hundreds of armed police. There he asserted de facto Israeli sovereignty over
al-Aqsa, in the immediate wake of Barak’s failure at Camp David to win US
recognition of Israel’s de jure sovereignty. The visit triggered the second intifada.
“Al-Aqsa Sheikh”
Salah
was far from idle as these developments unfolded. Soon after founding the
northern wing, he launched a political campaign for the Palestinian public in
Israel, popularizing the slogan, “al-Aqsa is in danger.” An annual rally in Umm
al-Fahm attracted tens of thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Salah
was determined to bolster the status of al-Aqsa mosque as a religious and
nationalist symbol for Palestinians to inoculate it from the counter-narrative
being advanced by Israeli politicians.
At
the holy esplanade, Salah took a decisive hand. He recruited volunteers from
the Muslim community inside Israel to do much of the heavy lifting as the waqf
renovated extensive areas of the compound in the late 1990s. The restoration of
prayer halls expanded the number of worshipers the site could accommodate,
further highlighting the importance of attendance by Palestinians from Israel.
To the irritation of Jordanian and PA officials, Salah had soon earned the
popular moniker “al-Aqsa sheikh.”
Additionally,
Salah arranged buses to ferry large numbers of supporters from Palestinian
heartlands in Israel’s north and south to restore al-Aqsa as a central place of
Muslim worship and to shop in Jerusalem’s Old City, where the tourist trade was
suffering after the outbreak of the second intifada in late 2000.
Merchants and residents of the Old City were indebted to him, benefiting from
this new kind of Palestinian tourism to Jerusalem—one that replaced the foreign
tourists, who were too fearful to visit the region, and West Bank Palestinians,
who were shut out.
Salah’s
increasing identification with al-Aqsa—not only locally but in the Arab and
Muslim worlds—brought prestige and funding that helped him to expand the busing
operations and a growing network of charities and religious institutions. The
southern wing had its two or three members sitting in the Knesset; Salah had
al-Aqsa and his credibility bolstered as both a spiritual leader and a forceful
independent political actor.
It
was therefore inevitable that he would run afoul of Sharon after the latter became
prime minister in 2001. Sharon immediately began tearing up the Oslo accords by
reinvading and locking down the West Bank, and then approving a separation
barrier that would run through Jerusalem. Jordan had cut ties with Israel. Only
Salah and his Islamic Movement stood in the way of al-Aqsa’s complete
isolation.
Campaign of Harassment
It
was in May 2003 that Salah was awakened in the hospital, at the bedside of his
dying father, to find himself surrounded by Israeli police and camera crews. He
and 15 other northern Islamic Movement officials were arrested, accused both of
funneling money to Hamas to “oil the wheels of murderous terrorism” and of
making contact with an Iranian “foreign agent.”

In
fact, as later became clear, Salah was being charged over his charitable work,
under a new kind of offense Israel was promoting—one now popular with US and
European governments, too. The northern movement was accused of directing
millions of dollars to Palestinian charities in the Occupied Territories that Israel
alleged were allied to Hamas and which had been set up to help the victims of
Israel’s military operations, including widows and orphans. Salah later stated
that he had received permission from the Shinbet to make the transfers. But no
matter: The money to humanitarian causes could now be presented as a form of
assistance, even if indirect, to a terror organization.
During
Salah’s 18-month trial, the charges were progressively scaled back, the
allegation that he had met a foreign agent was dropped, and dramatic evidence
Sharon’s office kept promising would soon be presented to the court never
materialized. In early 2005, a plea bargain was announced in which Salah was
sentenced to three and a half years. He was released a short time later.
In
interviews at that time, Salah pointed out that his arrest and trial followed
Sharon’s repeated efforts to outlaw the Islamic Movement. But, as his
successors would discover, there was stiff opposition from the Shinbet. The
intelligence service was worried that banning the movement would cause more
problems than it solved. It would be hard to enforce a ban on a movement with
more than 10,000 members and an extensive network of charities, many of them
carrying out vital work in deprived Palestinian communities the state had
forsaken. The movement would be driven underground, making it harder to track,
and some of its members might be pushed toward violence. And there was the fear
that Salah’s popularity would rocket following a ban, “radicalizing,” in the
words of officials, the wider Palestinian public in Israel.
Instead
Salah found himself the target of a campaign of relentless personal harassment.
He was repeatedly arrested, accused of making inflammatory sermons, or
insulting or assaulting police officers. He has spent much of the intervening
period under heavy surveillance, in jail or under travel restrictions, either
barring him from traveling abroad or from entering Jerusalem. Paradoxically, if
Salah’s lawyers soon exhaust the appeals process in a long-running court case,
his first stint in prison following the ban may be for a speech he gave in 2007
in which he is alleged to have incited the audience to violence.
Noteworthy Parallels
When
Netanyahu returned to power in 2009, Salah was high in his sights, both for his
work at al-Aqsa and for his wider role among the Palestinian minority in
Israel.
Israel
has a history of suppressing Palestinian political movements that challenge the
very ideological foundations on which a Jewish state was created. The first
serious threat of that kind had been posed by al-Ard, a secular pan-Arabist
movement established in 1959, when the Palestinian minority lived under
military rule. Al-Ard was officially outlawed in 1964, and a year later the
Israeli Supreme Court disqualified its list of candidates from running in the
1965 general election.
In
recent times the only other Palestinian leader in Israel who had troubled the
political-security establishment as much as Salah was Azmi Bishara, leader of
the secular democratic nationalist Balad party, or Tajammu‘ in Arabic. Like
Salah, he had founded a new party in reaction to Oslo. In his case, he
identified the key unresolved question for the Palestinian minority in Oslo’s
presumed partition of historical Palestine as the nature of continuing
citizenship for non-Jews in a Jewish state.
There
are noteworthy parallels between the Bishara and Salah approaches, and their
respective handling by Israel.
In
2007, when Bishara was abroad, the Shinbet announced that, if he returned, he
would put on trial for treason. He was forced into political exile. The main
accusation, barely credible, was that he had helped direct Hizballah rocket
fire into Israel during Israel’s confrontation with the Lebanese faction in
2006. More likely, the leadership had grown incensed by Bishara’s
confrontational positions, his efforts to develop ties between the Palestinian
minority and surrounding Arab states, and his demands that Israel be reformed
from a Jewish state into “a state of all its citizens.”
Around
this latter idea, Bishara and his Balad party had campaigned for educational
and cultural autonomy as a way to strengthen Palestinian society in Israel.
They also urged reform of the minority’s only national political body, the Arab
Higher Follow-Up Committee, to make it more representative and accountable to
the Palestinian public. Balad saw these moves as essential defenses against the
disruptive powers of a state with highly developed national institutions
serving only the Jewish population.
In
many ways Salah shared a similar vision, if one with an obviously more
religious tone. As well as trying to infuse the public with greater Islamic
zeal, the northern movement’s network of charities and associations was
designed to strengthen the Palestinian minority, especially poorer communities,
and provide it with a degree of autonomy from a hostile state.
That
was particularly evident in the Naqab (Negev), where the movement quickly used
its mosques and associations to find favor with local Bedouin youth. Many of
their parents and grandparents, cut off and vulnerable in Israel’s semi-desert
south, had tried to accommodate Israel by serving in the army and taking casual
and low-paid jobs in the Israeli economy. But the younger generation saw how
their elders had failed to advance in spite of their loyalty: Their rights to
their ancestral lands were rejected and their villages criminalized, denied
water and electricity and their homes demolished in a bid to pressure them into
townships lacking infrastructure and employment opportunities.
Salah’s
movement offered a route out of degrading dependence and a chance at dignity.
When Netanyahu’s government tried to force tens of thousands of Bedouin off
their lands under the Prawer Plan, large protests, assisted significantly by
the organizational work of the Islamic Movement, forced a government climbdown
in late 2013. For Israeli officials, the resolve of the Bedouin to resist their
mistreatment was proof of “radicalization”—and the Islamic Movement was blamed.
Salah,
like Bishara’s Balad party, was also sympathetic to the idea of reforming the
Follow-Up Committee. It was the Jewish-Arab Communist Party and the local, more
tribally based mayors that were opposed. Like Bishara, Salah had also raised
the Palestinian minority’s profile in the region—in his case through his work
at al-Aqsa. And, in ways appreciated by Balad activists, Salah accentuated the
nationalist as much as the Islamic significance of the holy esplanade in
Jerusalem.
For
these reasons, Netanyahu and the Shinbet wanted Salah “neutralized,” just as
Bishara had earlier been. Two incidents in particular suggested to observers
that Netanyahu’s government was seeking ways, possibly extreme ones, to
eliminate Salah as a threat.
In
2010, the sheikh was among a handful of Israeli-Palestinian leaders who joined
an aid flotilla to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. The main ship, the Mavi
Marmara
, was intercepted by the Israeli navy in an operation in
international waters that killed nine of the humanitarian activists aboard.
First reports suggested that Salah was among the dead. With astonishing speed,
large numbers of police were drafted into Palestinian areas in Israel in
expectation of violent protests. Only later did it emerge that the commandos
had killed a man, shot in the head at point-blank range, who closely resembled
Salah. It has been hard to dispel the impression among the Palestinian minority
that Israel hoped to take advantage of the interception to rid itself of Salah.
A year
later the sheikh managed to travel outside Israel again, this time to Britain.
The British media appeared familiar with Salah from the moment of his arrival,
warning that he was a “preacher of hate,” a “vile militant extremist” and an
anti-Semite. Shortly before he was due to address a public meeting in the
parliament building, he was arrested in his hotel. The government insisted on
his immediate deportation, saying he had managed to enter despite being on an
entry blacklist. But as a series of tribunal hearings dragged on for many
months, it emerged that the British government had acted exclusively on
briefings provided by the Community Security Trust, a local right-wing Zionist
organization with close ties to the Israeli government. The tribunal overruled
the deportation order, with the judge criticizing the British government for
acting on erroneous information, including a patently faulty translation of one
of Salah’s speeches made by the Israeli right-wing daily, the Jerusalem Post.

Digging In
Israel’s
Judaization efforts, especially in the areas immediately around al-Aqsa,
intensified in East Jerusalem following the outbreak of the second intifada
and the PA’s exclusion from the city. Emek Shaveh, an organization of dissident
Israeli archaeologists, has sounded repeated warnings that Israel is
aggressively using archaeological pretexts to encircle the holy esplanade. Most
notably, a settler organization, Elad, assisted by the government, police and
Jerusalem municipality, created an archaeological park, claiming to be the City
of David, next to the esplanade’s southern wall, immediately below the al-Aqsa
Mosque. Palestinian residents of neighboring Silwan are being gradually driven
out of the area as Elad quite literally digs in.
Salah
has expressed equal concern about what he believes is ultimately intended
inside the Haram al-Sharif itself. According to oral understandings between
Israel and Jordan, known as the “status quo,” Israel has responsibility for
overseeing security arrangements at al-Aqsa, while the Jordanian-controlled waqf
is supposed to have sole religious authority over the esplanade. In practice,
however, Israel’s security mandate means it has an active role in shaping the
physical environment at al-Aqsa and deciding who can enter. That has resulted
in extremist Jews, some of them committed to the destruction of al-Aqsa and its
replacement with a third temple, gaining ever greater access to the site, with
a near-doubling of such visits recorded over the last six years. Salah characterizes
these developments as a prelude to Israel dividing al-Aqsa “temporally and
spatially
.” Israel, he says, intends to introduce de facto changes to the
status quo that will provide Jews either with their own section for prayer or
their own dedicated times for prayer.
Salah’s
claims are not simple conspiracy theory. They are rooted in fears that Israel
will try to reproduce its success in Hebron, where in the 1990s it split the
Ibrahimi mosque in two, giving settlers control of a section now called the Tomb
of the Patriarchs. For that reason, his concerns resonated with many
Palestinians, including even the PA President Mahmoud ‘Abbas. He issued a
similar warning to the UN General Assembly in September 2015.
In
a counter-move in 2012, two groups of Islamic guardians were established at
al-Aqsa, known as the Murabitun and Murabitat: men and women committed to being
present at and defending the holy esplanade. Although Salah denies being
directly responsible for founding the groups, his northern Islamic Movement
undoubtedly helped to organize and fund them. The Murabitun and Murabitat run
prayer circles (halaqat) and education courses in al-Aqsa mosque and the
Dome, respectively, for men and women. Netanyahu and his officials accuse the
Islamic groups of harassing “tourists” visiting al-Aqsa. In fact, the groups
target not tourists, but ultra-nationalist Jews, backed by Israeli police, who
have been coming in ever larger numbers to the holy esplanade to assert Jewish
control at the site and the right to pray there. Typically, the Murabitun and
Murabitat confront and intimidate such Jews by massing near them and crying out
Allahu akbar!
In
addition, young men from East Jerusalem—nicknamed Shabab al-Aqsa by the Israeli
media—became a more visible and active presence at the Haram al-Sharif,
clashing frequently with police as Israel intensified restrictions on
Palestinian worship and access by extremist Jews increased. Israeli security
officials accused the northern wing of organizing the youths and inspiring their
violence.
More
generally, Palestinian unrest found an outlet in Jerusalem from the summer of
2014 onward. By then ordinary Palestinians had grown exasperated by the failure
of Mahmoud ‘Abbas’ PA to make diplomatic headway on statehood. The trigger for
unrest that summer was the kidnapping and burning to death of a local 16-year
old boy, Muhammad Abu Khudayr, by extremist Jews. Immediately afterward, Israel
launched another lethal attack on Gaza, Operation Protective Edge. While the
West Bank’s population was kept largely in check by the PA’s repressive
security forces, Jerusalem erupted into violence.
The
clashes with Israeli police lasted weeks and were supplemented by sporadic
attacks over the next months carried out by individual Palestinians on Israelis—many
of them stabbing or car-ramming incidents. At the time Netanyahu loudly accused
Salah’s Islamic Movement of helping to organize the violence in Jerusalem,
although again he produced no evidence. The Israeli media reported that the
prime minister had demanded that the Shinbet investigate how to implement a ban
on the Islamic Movement.
When
Jerusalem, and more specifically the holy esplanade, became the center of
trouble again at summer’s end in 2015, as the Jewish high holidays brought
large numbers of ultra-nationalist Jews to the Haram al-Sharif, a drastic move
against Salah’s Islamic Movement seemed all but inevitable. The waters were
tested first by outlawing the Murabitun and Murabitat in September.

The Mood Sours
A
ban on the northern wing had long been blocked by the Shinbet, but their
resolve weakened as regional and global opinion hardened toward political
Islam. Following the 2013 military coup in Egypt, Field Marshal ‘Abd al-Fattah
al-Sisi helped pave the way for Netanyahu’s move by outlawing the Muslim
Brothers at home and waging a low-level war on Hamas in Gaza. Meanwhile, the
mood in Europe and the United States soured after the Paris attacks. Netanyahu
knew the international community was unlikely to raise objections or study too
closely the comparisons he was making between Salah’s Islamic Movement, Hamas
and ISIS.
According
to Salah, the US and an Arab state—almost certainly Jordan—played an important
part behind the scenes in giving Netanyahu a green light. He says the ban was
engineered at a meeting in late October between Netanyahu and Secretary of
State John Kerry. The talks focused on introducing cameras on the holy
esplanade, an idea proposed by Netanyahu but for which Jordan’s King ‘Abdallah
II was accorded the credit. The ostensible purpose of the cameras was to
reassure Palestinians that Israel was not trying to change the status quo at
the Haram al-Sharif, in the hope of calming tensions in Jerusalem and the West
Bank. Palestinians immediately feared a trap, however, suspecting that Israel
would use the footage, which is supposed to be broadcast online, as a way to
identify activists and harass or arrest them.
Salah
told me that, according to his sources, the parties at that meeting more
specifically wanted to find a way to “clear the path to banning the Islamic
Movement, to get us out of the way.”
That assessment is partially confirmed by
a diplomatic source who said Jordan had been growing increasingly unhappy about
the role of the Islamic Movement at al-Aqsa. Amman, the source said, was
worried that Salah’s prominence had undermined its own authority there. It also
preferred that the spotlight during the current wave of unrest be removed from
the esplanade.
Although
the Shinbet decided not to stand in Netanyahu’s way, the ban on the northern
Islamic Movement sets them a task they seem unsure how to carry out.
Highlighting the decision’s political rather than security rationale, it was
reported by Haaretz that the head of the Shinbet, Yoram Cohen, had tried
to persuade the cabinet to avoid a ban only a fortnight before Netanyahu’s
announcement was made. Two unnamed government ministers said Cohen had observed
that the move would do “more harm than good” and that his agency had found no
evidence of links to “terrorism.”
In
contrast to the Shinbet’s position, the Israeli police were reported to be
enthusiastic” about enforcing a ban on Salah and his followers. Veteran
Israeli journalist Ben Caspit summed up the police’s optimistic view: “Any
agitation arising among Israeli Arabs will be insignificant and containable,
while the legal tools given to the authorities to neutralize incitement and
extreme Islam in Israel will be substantial.”
Netanyahu also faced no
meaningful political opposition. Isaac Herzog, the head of the centrist Zionist
Union, the official opposition, praised the ban, adding only a mild rebuke to
Netanyahu for not acting sooner: “It’s a shame it took him so long to take this
necessary step.”

An Unclear Ban
Technically,
anyone supporting the Islamic Movement now risks being arrested and jailed, as
happened to Zinat Jallad. According to Israeli legal expert Aeyal Gross, the
emergency regulation invoked against the movement means: “Anyone who belongs to
an outlawed organization, acts on its behalf, holds a job in it, does any work
for it, attends one of its meetings or possesses one of its books, periodicals,
fliers or any other publication may be prosecuted and sentenced to up to ten
years in prison.”
But
it is still unclear how strictly the ban will be implemented. Polls conducted
beforehand showed that more than half of the Palestinian minority believes
Salah’s movement represents them, including many Palestinian Christians. A
tenth said they identified with the movement more closely than any other
organization in Israel.
Further
complicating the picture for the Shinbet, the organizational links between the
northern and southern wings are not always clear-cut, making disentangling them
difficult. The northern Islamic Movement also has strong support from major
extended families, giving it a powerful social standing. Disbanding the
movement would require a massive and costly security operation and campaign of
intimidation, including imprisoning many of its members, shutting down its
mosques and closing its network of welfare associations.
The
signs so far are that the Shinbet is reluctant to take such a draconian step,
fearful of the potential backlash. Instead it appears readier to use a light
touch in the short term, exploiting the new situation to isolate, harass and
possibly imprison Salah’s inner circle, and find ways to defund the movement’s
activism in Jerusalem. That was the impression created by a senior Israeli
official, who told the local media: “The problem is that in the law you can’t
distinguish each element with tweezers—the police and the Shinbet will decide
where it is proper to act and the priority will of course be against incitement
over the Temple Mount and similar things.”

Over
the long term, its foes probably hope, the movement can be weakened through a
war of attrition, persuading some supporters to gravitate to the southern wing.
The danger is that others will be driven underground, and seek ideological
consolation in more extreme or militant groups. In recent months, Israel has
claimed to uncover several small cells of ISIS supporters inside the Green
Line. The credibility of these specific claims is open to question, but the
prospect of greater extremism is real.
It
is equally unclear what tools the northern Islamic Movement can muster to
challenge the decision. A 30-day window to appeal the ban has now expired. The
movement’s lawyers are pondering instead whether to turn to Israel’s Supreme
Court. Ostensibly, they have a good case. Adalah, a legal group for Israel’s
Palestinian minority, has questioned the legitimacy of exploiting the colonial
legal framework of emergency regulations drafted by the British in 1945 rather
than using the normal legal requirements for “conducting investigations and
collecting evidence to support the state’s accusations.”
Further,
the Supreme Court should approve the ban only if it can be demonstrated that
the “dominant purpose and actions” of the Islamic Movement are illegal. Given
the lack of evidence that the group’s leaders justify violence, that would be
hard to do. Lawyers add that instances of incitement by the movement’s leaders
should be dealt with through individual prosecutions, not through a sweeping
ban.
The
hesitation of Salah’s lawyers to pursue legal avenues, however, is prompted by
concerns about the state’s reliance on classified information and the makeup of
the Supreme Court, which, like Israeli society, has shifted to the right in
recent years. Should the judges reject an appeal, Netanyahu’s decision, which
currently smells of a purely political maneuver, would be given the stamp of
judicial authority.

Next in the Firing Line
For
the time being Salah and his followers, locked out of their offices in Umm
al-Fahm, have decamped to a protest tent in a large covered market on the
outskirts of the city. Attendance varies from days when only a few hundred turn
up to days when many thousands come to show their support at protest events.
Salah
has found backing from all the other political factions, which are only too
aware of the red line Netanyahu has crossed in imposing the ban. Yusuf Jabarin,
a Knesset member with the Communist Front party, which shares little
ideological ground or sympathy with Salah, called the decision ‘dangerous
political persecution and a serious violation of a national minority’s basic
right for the freedom of expression, the freedom of religious, and the freedom
of assembly.” Immediately after the northern wing was outlawed, the Follow-Up
Committee called a general strike in Palestinian communities, though one that
was not universally observed.
One
seasoned observer of the Palestinian political scene in Israel, Raef Zreik,
contends that the ban is the most significant change in relations between
Israel and its Palestinian citizens since martial law ended for them in 1966.
He considers it a potential “rethinking [of] 19
48 and the granting of Israeli
citizenship to Palestinians who remained within the state’s borders.”
The
reasonable fear is that, with Salah’s movement out of the way, other political
movements and civil society organizations will be next in the firing line. Atop
the list is likely to be Bishara’s Balad party, which, despite his exiled
status, still operates and has three members in the current Knesset, part of
the wider coalition of Arab parties known as the Joint List. One of Balad’s
MKs, Hanin Zu‘bi, has been the target of almost relentless vilification and
repeated efforts to deny her the right to stand for election. It is not beyond
the realm of the possible that Netanyahu will seek to ban the entire party
before the next national elections.
If
he does so, it will pose a severe problem to the rest of Joint List, whose
participation in the Knesset, following the ban on the northern Islamic Movement,
is already looking discredited to many. If Balad is outlawed, it is difficult
to imagine how the other Arab parties and the joint Arab-Jewish Communist Party
could legitimately continue to serve in the Knesset.
But
even if Netanyahu fails to extend the ban to other parties, the move against
the Islamic Movement alone may be enough to bolster the already significant
boycott of recent Knesset elections by the Palestinian citizenry. In March
2015, as Israelis went to the polls, Netanyahu issued a much-criticized warning
that the Arab population were turning out en masse to help in the election of a
center-left government. With the Islamic Movement out of the way, Zreik notes,
the concern of the prime minister over Palestinians streaming to the polls ‘in
droves’ will thus be resolved.”
Happily
for Netanyahu and the rest of his far-right government, the further depression
of the Arab vote would likely guarantee their continuing hold on power for the
foreseeable future. 

 

 

 

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