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July 31, 2010 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 628

The Islamic Movement in Israel: Switching Focus from Jerusalem to the Palestinian Cause

July 31, 2010 | By L. Barkan*
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 628

Introduction

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 now embraces and openly supports Hamas's perception.

The following review will present the Islamic Movement's expanding political-ideological discourse as well as its ideological support for Hamas, its political activism for Hamas, its calls for war against Israel, its resolute support for the refugees' right to return to their homes, and the issue of Jerusalem, which has remained the core of its activity. This paper will also discuss two Israeli Arab websites that post Islamic Movement and Hamas content.

The Expansion of the Islamic Movement's Discourse and Its Ideological Support for Hamas

In an interview with Islamonline, Raed 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 on the PLO to acknowledge 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... The Oslo Accords caused tragedy in the full meaning of the term to everything concerning occupied Al-Quds and the 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."[1]

Salah expressed similar positions in an article titled "The Palestinian Cause Is in Danger," published in the movement organ Sawt Al-Haq Wal-Hurriya, and on Pls48.net. 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?..."[2]

While Salah was mildly critical of Abbas's extended term as Palestinian Authority president, Sawt Al-Haq Wal-Hurriya editor Hamed Aghbariya openly attacked Abbas. In response to statements Abbas purportedly made at a June 2010 meeting with representatives of the Jewish lobby in the U.S., in which he said that he did not deny the Jewish people's right to Israel,[3] 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."[4]

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 Palestine-info.info 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."[5]

Political and Practical Support for Hamas

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."[6] Prior to his departure for Turkey, Salah said at an event in Kfar Kanna commemorating the Nakba 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..."[7]

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.[8] 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.[9]

Members of the Islamic Movement stated that participation in the flotilla was a political act in support of the Hamas government. One member, 'Abd Al-Hakim Mufid, attacked the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and the Israeli Arabs who did not take part in it: "Sailing on a ship to besieged Gaza is not just a purely humanitarian act... It is participation in removing the siege on Gaza; it is a political act; and it is [expressing] a political position. It is precisely here that it can be seen who tried to harm the ship; or who was partner to harming it, by trying to prevent it from arriving; or who turned a blind eye [to this attempt]. In this matter, there is no difference between the Palestinian Authority's and the Egyptian regime's position and the positions of those [i.e. the Israel Arabs] who justified their non-participation in the convoy with 'logistical' reasons..."[10]

Kamal Khatib, Salah's deputy, wrote: "If [Theodor] Herzl sailed from Turkey to Palestine to lay the first bricks in building a state for the Jews, then today the Turks sail to Palestine to remove the siege – and, what is more, to emphasize the entitlement of Hamas, which was elected by its people to manage affairs in the Gaza Strip, and to be the nucleus for the establishment of the future Palestinian state – on land, at sea, and in the air. [Turkish] Prime Minister Erdogan has said the same."[11]

Raed Salah speaks in Turkey prior to flotilla's launch. Source: Pls48.net, May 23, 2010.

Salah: Turkey Will Bring About Zionism's End

Salah's adoption of an extremist Islam similar to that of Hamas is expressed also in statements made by both him and his deputy Kamal Khatib concerning Zionism's imminent end and the need to fight Israel. The statements were made in the framework of events such as the flotilla, and Turkey's role in it, as well as in the form of expression of an overall ideological vision. Khatib claimed that Turkey had started a battle against the Zionists to punish them for the machinations of Herzl, who had asked the Turkish sultan to sell the land of Israel to the Jews: "Exactly 100 years have passed since Theodor Herzl, along with the Donma Jews,[12] tricked and schemed against the Ottoman Islamic caliphate in Turkey... A century has passed, and now the situation is changing and the schemes are being exposed. We are at the point of standing up to the schemers, demanding to settle accounts with them, and punishing them. This is the current situation of the Turkish street and of the Turkish government. [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu's ancestors cunningly undermined the Ottoman caliphate, and today the descendants of Sultan 'Abd Al-Hamid are confronting the descendants of Herzl, face to face. Time will tell which of them will have a happy end!"[13]

Also, at a press conference following the flotilla events, Salah praised Turkey as bringing about the end of Zionism: "Herzl once wanted the Zionist plan to begin in Turkey, and now events show any intelligent person that the Zionist plan [will] end in Turkey... The blood of the Freedom Flotilla shahids and wounded bears many messages, among them the mingling of Palestinian and Turkish blood... Istanbul's future is part of the future of Al-Quds [Jerusalem]; Ankara's future is part of the future of Gaza; and the future of [Istanbul's] Muhammad Al-Fatih Mosque is part of the future of the Al-Aqsa Mosque."[14]

Islamic Movement Deputy Leader Khatib: The Time Has Come to Attack Israel

In further statements on the struggle against Israel, also at the press conference, Salah moved from the national aspect to the religious aspect, specifically to shahada (martyrdom): "We say [to Israel]: [Even] if you have atomic bombs, missiles, tanks, cannon, and ground, naval, and air forces, know that it is Allah who gives life and takes it away. We fear nothing but the Sovereign of the Universe. Shahada is a belief and a duty that is incumbent upon all. Each of us must hope for it and die yearning for it..."[15]

Islamic Movement deputy leader Kamal Khatib expressed even more extremist views in an article comparing a Koranic story about Muhammad's victory against Jews and polytheists who outnumbered him to the present situation of the Muslims and Israel. He wrote that the time has come to attack and subjugate Israel: "The relations today between Israel and the Arabs, the Palestinians, and the Muslims in general are greatly similar to those between the Muslims in the time of Muhammad and the Jewish tribes – especially in Al-Madina – and to the [Muslims'] relations with the Arab and polytheist tribes."

By way of example, Khatib referred to Surat Al-Ahzab (the 23rd surah, "The Confederate Tribes"), about the Battle of Al-Madina, in which 3,000 Muslims defeated 10,000 polytheists who had besieged them. He wrote: "The moral victory at the Battle of the Tribes – the 'Battle of Nerves' – powerfully motivates Muslims to act and to take initiative, as the Prophet said: 'Now we will attack them so that they do not attack us'... Holy Mecca, the stronghold of the polytheists and the den of the infidels in those days, was quick to wave white flags on the day of great conquest, just three years after the Battle of the Tribes. This happened as part of an outpouring of blessed Islamic faith, covering not only the Arabian Peninsula [as in] in the Prophet's time, but [going on to conquer] about one-fourth of the globe...."

Khatib went on to claim that Israel's defeats in recent years had tipped the scales in favor of the Muslim ummah, which would ultimately win the war: "The commemoration of the Nakba on May 15, of the Israeli army's fleeing from Lebanon on May 24, of its withdrawal from Gaza in August 2005; of its first moral defeat in [Israel's] military history in the summer of 2006 [in Lebanon]; of its failure to topple Gaza and its leadership in the holocaust [it perpetrated] in 2008-2009 and its failure to hand it over to its wicked henchmen, Muhammad Dahlan[16] and his mercenaries – [all] prove to any sensible person that the reality of the ummah today differs significantly from its reality during the 'lean years.'"

Khatib concluded by claiming that Israel would soon launch a military offensive to regain its former glory, but stressed that the Palestinians and Muslims would emerge victorious, not because of their military strength but by virtue of their faith.[17]

The Refugees Have the Right to Return to Their Homes in Israel

The Islamic Movement calls for adhering to the Palestinian refugees' right to return to the homes and lands that they possessed in 1948, and rejects the idea of the "resettlement" of refugees outside of Palestine in exchange for waiving the right of return. This stance is in line with that of Hamas and of the PLO and the PA, even though 'Abbas and his spokesmen maintain a vague definition of the concept of "right of return."[18]

In his article "The Palestinian Cause is In Danger," Salah called for protecting the refugees' property until their return: "Is it enough that we agree today on the right of return as one of the main principles of the Palestinian cause, without actively protecting the homes, lands, and holy places of our Palestinian people, from which they have been exiled since the 1948 Nakba of Palestine? Or should we propose a strategic plan to protect their lands, homes, and holy places as a matter of temporary necessity, until the right of return is realized and they go back to these lands, homes, and holy places – in the Galilee, the Triangle,[19] the Negev, and the coastal cities: Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, and Ramle? Do we not today have an urgent need to see acting for the right of return as one of the main principles of the Palestinian cause?..."[20]

In early May 2010, Salah participated in the eighth annual Congress of European Palestinians in Berlin, which focused on the right of return. Over 10,000 Palestinians from across Europe were there; the hall in which it was held was designed like a tent, symbolizing the Palestinians' refugee status.[21] In his speech at the conference, Salah announced his plans to participate in the upcoming Freedom Flotilla, adding that he hoped to welcome the refugees back to their homeland: "We stress before all the world that the Freedom Flotilla heralds another flotilla that is soon to come. Do you know what it will be? The flotilla of the Palestinian refugees returning to our land, our plains, our sea and our land, our fields and our orchards... I will be very glad to welcome you [returning Palestinian refugees] – but if I die, my sons – 'Umar, Al-Qa'qaa, and Salah Al-Din – will welcome you."[22]

At a rally marking Nakba Day in Kfar Kanna, a few days after the Berlin congress, Salah said that the congress participants had emphasized "that there is no retreat the right of return; that there is no [accepting] resettlement in exchange for the right of return – this is a cursed proposal; that there is no [accepting] reparations in exchange for the right of return – this is great treason; and that there must be no compromises in exchange for the right of return – this is bitter defeat... The keys still hang from [the refugees'] necks, and the day is near when they will return with those keys and unlock the doors [to the homes] from which they were expelled, in the Galilee, the Triangle, and the coastal cities: Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, Lod, and Ramle... We call [to them] and say: Oh Palestinian refugees everywhere, we await you..."[23]

Defending Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa – The Core of the Islamic Movement's Activities

Defending Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque against Judaicization has traditionally been the core of the Islamic Movement's activities under Salah's leadership. The movement's expanding ideological and political activity has not detracted from this, and Salah is still thought to lead the campaign to defend Jerusalem and to liberate it from Israeli occupation. In his article " The Palestinian Cause is In Danger," he wrote: "It is not enough to agree that Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and Al-Aqsa are [basic] principles of the Palestinian cause; it must be agreed to use any means to defend them, and to take a stand against the Israeli occupation that is acting obstinately to Judaicize Al-Quds and to build a false temple on the ruins of Al-Aqsa. [These actions must be taken] until the Israeli occupation is gone, soon, from Al-Quds and Al-Aqsa."[24]

'Izz Al-Din, a columnist for the Hamas website who resides in the West Bank, praised Salah's activities in defense of Al-Aqsa. He wrote: "Our dear Sheikh Raed Salah: You are the leader of the Islamic Movement in Palestine. I do not say the leader of the Islamic Movement within [the 1948 territories], but in Palestine – all of Palestine. The old and the young of the movement in Gaza love the knight who braves the waves of the sea in order to visit and embrace them. The movement's youth in the [West] Bank watch as the heroic sheikh stands at the head of the ranks and enlists boys and men, leading them in the campaign in defense of Al-Aqsa. There is no doubt that our brothers outside [Palestine], along with all the Muslims who are aware of your position and prowess, remember what you have done for the sake of Al-Aqsa and Palestine...

"My dear sheikh... it is you who fights them with a determination which befits only heroes like you, who are part of the legacy of the forefathers of the ummah... It is you who are worthy, figuratively and in fact, of the title 'living shahid,' even if we cannot choose for Allah [who is to be a shahid]!... You are a man through whom Allah has revitalized an ummah and defended Al-Aqsa. History will show – and also record with pride and with glory – that Raed Salah was the vanguard[25] of Salah Al-Din, who heralded his coming and paved the way for him [by] working to train the generation of victory and conquest, the generation of Salah Al-Din!..." 'Izz Al-Din continued in his praise for Salah, dubbing him "guard of the shrine of Al-Aqsa, who lights its lamps with oil and blood."[26]

Israeli Arab Websites – Aligned with Hamas

The website Pls48.net purports to represent the Palestinians living in the 1948 territories, that is, the Israeli Arabs. However, a brief perusal of the site shows that it is an organ of the Islamic Movement, even though there is no mention of such an affiliation. The permanent writers on the site are senior movement members, such as Raed Salah and his deputy Kamal Khatib, and the site posts articles and reports from the movement's official journal Sawt Al-Haq Wal-Hurriya. Likewise, as previously mentioned, the site posts various reports from Hamas websites, as well as statements by senior Hamas officials, and uses the same style and expressions as Hamas publications. For instance, the site refers to Isma'il Haniya as the "head of the Palestinian government," while the Palestinian Authority's media consistently refers to the Hamas government as the "dismissed government." As for Mahmoud 'Abbas, the site – like Hamas – calls him the "Palestinian Authority chairman whose term has ended," or else refers to him as "chairman of the Palestinian Authority" or "chairman of the Ramallah authority."

The website describes itself as having headquarters in Umm Al-Fahm, the hometown and current residence of Salah, who served as the city's mayor for more than a decade. The town has its own website, Um-elfahem.net, which serves as an additional mouthpiece for the Islamic Movement. Beyond providing information about local events, the site follows Salah's activities and covers his interviews and articles; some of the content is taken from Sawt Al-Haq Wal-Hurriya, and some from the Hamas-affiliated website Palestine-info.info. In conclusion, both of the Israeli Arab sites post Islamic Movement content and, by doing so, Hamas content as well.


Articles section of Pls48.net, featuring articles by Raed Salah, Kamal Khatib, and Hamid Agbariya


Umm Al-Fahm website's page of interviews with Salah

*L. Barkan is a Research Fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] Islamonline.net, July 26, 2010.

[2] www.pls48.net, May 23, 2010.

[3] Abbas's statement was published in the Israeli press (Haaretz, June 10, 2010), but was later denied by Palestinian Authority negotiations chief Saeb 'Ereqat, who explained that at the meeting with American Jewish leaders, Abbas had merely said that the PLO does not deny that Jews have lived in the Middle East and Palestine throughout history, as stated in the Koran itself. www.aljazeera.net, June 11, 2010.

[4] Sawt Al-Haq W'al-Hurriya (Israel), June 12, 2010.

[5] Palestine-info.info, July 25, 2010

[6] www.pls48.net, May 27, 2010.

[7] www.pls48.net, May 14, 2010.

[8] Al-Rai (Kuwait), June 3, 2010.

[9] www.ikhwanonline.com, June 8, 2010. This hadith concerns the words of the Prophet, when he said: "... The best of your jihad is ribat and the best of your ribat is Ashkelon."

[10] Sawt Al-Haq W'al-Hurriya (Israel), June 6, 2010.

[11] Al-Sinara (Israel), June 11, 2010.

[12] The Donma are a Shabtaic sect. The name is applied to the Jews of Turkey, who are believed to be descendants of Shabtai Zvi.

[13] Al-Sinara (Israel), June 25, 2010.

[14] www.pls48.net, June 3, 2010.

[15] www.pls48.net, June 3, 2010.

[16] Dahlan is a Fatah MP who served as PA Minister in Charge of Security Affair in the Gaza Strip before the Hamas coup in 2007.

[17] www.pls48.net, May 19, 2010.

[18] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No.2995, "Palestinians: Nobody Is Authorized to Waive the Right of Return," June 3, 2010, Palestinians: Nobody Is Authorized to Waive the Right of Return.

[19] A region of Israeli Arab towns and villages near the Green Line, located in the eastern Sharon.

[20] www.pls48.net, May 23, 2010.

[21] www.alawda.eu, May 8, 2010.

[23] www.pls48.net, May 14, 2010.

[24] www.pls48.net, May 23, 2010.

[25] The word raed means "vanguard" in Arabic.

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