The leader of the Islamic Movement's outlawed northern branch, Sheikh Raed Salah, was arrested early Tuesday morning on suspicion of inciting terrorism. The Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court extended Salah's remand by three days.
Salah was arrested for remarks delivered in a speech last month at the funeral of three Israeli Arab gunmen who killed two police officers at the Temple Mount. In the speech, he praised the attackers and exhorted others to follow their example.
Salah told reporters in the courtroom that his arrest was part of a political witch hunt against him.
"I told the investigators I teach at mosques, and I told them (my remarks) were Islamic insights we got from the Sunni Quran," Salah said during his court hearing.
"You are not prosecuting me, you are prosecuting the Quran. What you're doing is an expression to the continued persecution of our public by the Israeli government. This is political persecution. This is an attempt to get the media to talk about my arrest."
Salah's lawyer, Mustafa Mahamid, blamed the police of "presenting a partial and distorted picture of the investigation material to the judge. The judge stated this specifically."
Elaborating on the allegations, the lawyer said that "incitement is attributed to the sheikh over three speeches or sermons he gave. The sheikh claims these were religious sermons, that he was quoting from the Quran, and that those quotes were not incitement and the Quran cannot be viewed as inciting material."
Mahamid claimed the allegations were "a storm in a teacup," asserting "this investigation is being done under pressure from the political echelons."
A large police force arrived at the Mahajina neighborhood of Umm al-Fahm early Tuesday and arrested Salah following a joint investigation of the Israel Police and the Shin Bet, which was conducted at the behest of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
Police reported that "on several different occasions—all of them taking place after the (Islamic Movement's) northern branch was outlawed—the inciter made public comments relating to the movement's worldview, and some of his statements were published in the media as well. An examination of all the material raises suspicion (security) offenses were carried out and, as a result, an investigation was authorized."
The wife of the sheik, Um Omar, said, "Twenty policemen came into the house and took the computer and told my husband to prepare himself for his arrest. I do not know the reasons for this decision. However, all these steps will not change our path."
An activist in the Islamic Movement claimed that "this is political persecution. They are constantly trying to blame the sheikh for incitement, but there is no basis to all this. The sheikh always tries to calm things down and does not call for riots as they claim. It is better that they stop the racists who incite against the Arab citizens, like (Defense Minister) Lieberman and others. Unfortunately, this country is only looking to persecute us at all costs. What matters to them is that the sheikh is in jail."
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel Radio that Salah is "a danger to the public" for encouraging "radicalism and despicable acts of murder," while Arab-Israeli lawmakers called for his immediate release.
MK Jamal Zahalka (Joint List) said the arrest was "vengeful" and "political" in nature and "meant to silence (Salah) in an effort to limit and minimize the Arab public's freedom of political activity."
"I call on all those who oppose fascism to wake up and protest. These arrests won't deter us and we will continue with our just struggle to defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque from an insane government that supports actions meant to harm the mosque," Zahalka added.
In January 2017 Raed Salah was released from prison after serving nine months following his conviction for inciting violence and racism in a sermon he delivered in east Jerusalem in 2007. Hundreds of Umm al-Fahm residents greeted him with celebrations and fireworks.
In November 2015, the Security Cabinet declared the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel an illegal organization, particularly due to its connections to Hamas. This meant that the movement—led by Sheikh Raed Salah—was outlawed, any property belonging to the organization may be confiscated and any body or person that either belongs to this organization, provides it with a service or operates on its behalf is committing a criminal offense and is subject to imprisonment.