The head of the Islamic Movement in Israel’s northern branch, Sheikh Raed Salah, was found guilty of incitement to violence by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court last week.
The ruling was made in reference to a February 2007 rally in East Jerusalem in which Salah said: “Now it is their [Muslims’] duty to initiate an Islamic intifada from sea to sea in support of the holy Jerusalem and the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque.”
More than 1,000 of Salah’s followers attended the rally against Israeli renovation and excavation projects around the Temple Mount. A wave of violent demonstrations followed, in which rioters killed three Israeli soldiers.
The cleric was acquitted of the charge of incitement to racism, even though British tribunal judges ruled last year that he had invoked the antisemitic blood libel in the same 2007 speech.
In April last year, Salah won an appeal against the Home Office’s plan to deport him from the UK, arguing that his remarks on children’s blood being used to bake “holy bread” were not references to the blood libel against Jews.
The UK judges ruled that his claims were “wholly unpersuasive”, but said the Home Secretary, Theresa May, had been “misled” and had shown “disproportionate interference” when attempting to ban him from Britain.
In his defence in the Jerusalem court, Salah cited freedom of speech, and complained that his words had not been properly translated.
“Freedom of speech is a supreme value in a democracy, still it is not a freedom without limits and the state is obliged to defend its citizens and security forces from violence or terrorism,” the verdict said.
“The sheikh will continue to oppose the Israeli control of the area. We understand the court decision, but it too is part of the Israeli establishment, and thus unjustified,” a spokesman from the Islamic Movement in Israel’s Northern Branch told Israeli Channel 2 news following the court decision.
In 2003, Salah was convicted of funding Hamas and spent two years in an Israeli prison.