Friday, November 8, 2013

Islamist Firebrand Convicted of Incitement to Violence

by Edna Edato

Jerusalem court convicts Raed Salah over speech that called for a popular uprising, used the words 'blood' and 'martyr' repeatedly and seemed to encourage violence against security forces • Salah's defense: His speech was in a gray zone.

Leader of the Islamist Movement's northern branch Sheikh Raad Salah
Photo credit: Israel Police

Photo credit: Israel Police
A Jerusalem Magistrates' Court judge convicted Islamic Movement northern branch leader Sheikh Raed Salah of incitement on Thursday for giving a sermon calling for a third intifada, leading to public disorder and violence. Salah was acquitted of incitement to racism charges.
Salah was indicted in 2008. The indictment stated that on Feb. 16, 2007, Salah appealed to hundreds of his supporters in the north, where he leads the local branch of the Islamic Movement, calling on every Muslim to "start the Arab Islamist intifada, from ocean to ocean, to support the holy city of Jerusalem and the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque."

"We never allowed ourselves to knead the bread of the holy Ramadan breakfast with the blood of children. If someone wants a more detailed explanation then all they need to do is ask what happens to some of the children in Europe, if their blood is used to knead holy bread," Salah said.

"On that same day all the streets of holy Jerusalem will be purged of the blood of innocents, who let their own blood exacting the souls of Israeli occupation soldiers occupying the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque ... I say clearly and without hesitation, you who incite against us, do not be tempted by the ranks on your shoulders. These ranks and stars on your shoulders are made from the skulls of our martyrs," he said. 

The indictment stated that Salah's speech was interrupted several times by excited crowd members. Some called out "Allah is great." Others shouted, "With our life and blood we will redeem you, Al-Aqsa." 

At the end of his speech and following prayers, the crowd became agitated. A few individuals threw stones at nearby police officers. In the ensuing commotion between security forces and the Palestinian protesters, three border guards were wounded.

Salah's defense attorney claimed that the charges against his client "were in the gray zone between the legal right to freedom of expressions and the limits of the law." 

"His statements were made on the backdrop of an intense protest," he said. 

Judge Hannah Miriam Lomp ruled that Salah's speech was incitement to violence because he called for a popular uprising. She mentioned repeated use of the words "blood" and the phrase "we will meet God as martyrs on the blessed Al-Aqsa grounds" as further proof that his speech encouraged violence. 

"Indeed the freedom of expression is a supreme value in any democracy, but this freedom is not without limits. The state is obligated to shield its citizens and security forces from violence, so it cannot tolerate statements that call to harm [the state] or security forces," she said. 

The judge cleared Salah of incitement to racism, saying that the prosecution could not prove "beyond reasonable doubt that there existed a causation between the riots that broke out and the defendant's speech." She further noted that the defendant's comments on blood libel "were not entirely clear; they conflated various terms from different religions. For example, the defendant said that the blood of children was mixed with the holy bread -- which is a type of bread used by Christians -- not with matzah, the bread of affliction consumed on Passover according to Jewish tradition, and which was originally associated with the blood libel in Europe. The defendant denied he was referring to the Damascus Blood Libel and I accept that. Therefore, due to the lack of clarity in his comments and in light of the explanations he provided I harbor doubts as to whether he was aware of the implications of his actions and the likelihood that they would lead to violence and racism. Therefore, the defendant is found not guilty on the count of incitement to racism." 

Salah's sentencing hearing will take place at a later date. Several years ago, Salah was found guilty of disorderly conduct, in addition to accosting a public official near the Temple Mount. He was sentenced to nine months in prison and to another six months in prison as part of a suspended sentence, in addition to a 7,500 shekel ($2,100) fine. Salah's assault consisted of spitting on a border policeman. 

Judge Yitzhak Shimoni, who presided over his first trial, said, "This is a harsh sentence that is designed to make the defendant internalize the severity of his crimes; his action are not just disrespectful of the policeman but also express hatred and a lack of respect to uniformed personnel who represent the rule of law in the state of Israel and the foundations of our government."

Edna Edato


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