Itongadol.- Raed Salah, the leader of the extremist Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement had his appeal rejected in the Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday and will have to serve the 11-month sentence he received in March for incitement in a speech he gave in 2007.
Salah is scheduled to begin serving his sentence on November 15.
The verdict comes at a sensitive time of daily terrorist attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. The decision could set off even more protests and violence from within the Israeli Arab sector, which sees Salah as one of its leaders.
“In spirit and blood we will defend al-Aksa,” shouted Salah in his previous court appearance two weeks ago.
“Whoever thinks that they can scare us by putting us in prison is mistaken,” he said at the time.
Joint List MK Ahmed Tibi told The Jerusalem Post two weeks ago that the attempt to jail Salah is an effort “to exploit the tension and fervor in the street to quickly put Salah in jail as part of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s effort to ban the Islamic Movement.”
Prof. Lawrence Rubin, a Middle East expert from the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, had said, “This is ‘Salah’s moment’ because his powerful mobilizing symbol for years has been al-Aksa.”
The presence of Arab MKs and other Arab leaders at the hearing enhanced Salah’s claim for leadership of Arab citizens of Israel, said Rubin, who wrote an in depth study of the Islamic Movement last year for the Brookings Institution.
“Salah still has to maintain a delicate balance because the Israeli authorities could shut down many of his financial operations he uses to fund his social welfare programs, mosque activities and so on,” he added.
Netanyahu, government officials and others in the media have been pointing their fingers at the Islamic Movement in Israel’s northern branch, connecting it to the recent wave of violence.
A representative of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) told the cabinet earlier this month that the Islamic Movement and Hamas were chiefly responsible for the incitement that has led to the upsurge of terrorism, and that both groups reject Israel’s existence.
In an interview on Army Radio this month, the head of the police operations, Asst.-Ch. Aharon Aksol, said, “These are not spontaneous events, the Northern Branch is a guiding hand.”
Also this month, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom issued a one-month travel ban on Salah, saying that his leaving Israel could pose a significant threat to the security of Israel. The travel ban expires on November 11th, and also applies to Salah’s deputy.