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The spontaneous Arab riots, organized on
social networking websites, raise the question: Is there a hidden hand
A youth holds a Palestinian
flag and a sling during clashes with Israeli police after prayers last
Friday in Shuafat
Photo credit: Reuters
Abdel Baset Salameh, mayor of the Israeli Arab
town Qalansawe, called the recent riots and unrest in Wadi Ara and the
Triangle region a "small tsunami." Salameh said it looked bad and added
that was no guarantee it would stay small.
The tsunami was quite reminiscent of the
not-too-distant days of October 2000. That was when unrest on the Temple
Mount spiraled out into the Second Intifada. Initially, Israeli Arabs
joined the uprising. Thirteen of them were killed in clashes with
police. The Or Commission, the state-appointed panel investigating the
events, placed the blame squarely on Israeli-Arab shoulders, though it
also cited the government's mishandling of flashpoint areas.
This time, the excuse -- real or imagined --
is the murder of the Arab teenage boy from Shuafat, Muhammad Abu Khdeir,
and Israel's operations against Hamas in the wake of the abduction and
murder of three Jewish teens. Thousands of Israeli Arabs from Tayibe,
Tira, Qalansawa, Sakhnin, Kafr Qara, Tamra, Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm
have taken to the streets and road junctions, ripping out road signs,
hurling bricks, setting tires alight, blocking major traffic arteries
and trying -- with some degree of success -- to harm Jews wherever they
Even the Bedouin living near Arad have joined
"the campaign." In Acre, residents unfurled Palestinian flags, blocked
roadways, and chanted: "There's nothing like abducting soldiers." The
stitches that precariously held things together, all the while covering
these wounds, have begun to sunder, and the fault lines are being
redrawn as we speak.
It was just a few short weeks ago that
Professor Sami Samuha, the Haifa University sociologist who has long
studied the Jewish-Arab rift in Israel, spoke about the sea change in
the attitude of Israel's Arab citizens toward the state and its Jewish
majority. Samuha noted that there were more Arabs who were ready to
recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state that preserves a
Jewish majority. Now, to borrow a phrase from U.S. Secretary of State
John Kerry, "poof" -- everything is blowing up in our faces.
It's true, this doesn't mean we ought to
generalize and lump the Arabs altogether. It is apparent that among the
Israel's Arab citizens there is a silent majority that seeks calm. Even
the veteran, apolitical Arab leadership -- mayors and municipality
chiefs -- has learned its lesson. They know the painful price --
primarily economic -- that the community paid as a result of the October
2000 unrest. Now, it's trying to douse the flames. The Umm al-Fahm
municipality released a statement emphasizing that it was taking no part
in either the riots or demonstrations. Such as in every conflict,
however, the fanatics shape the circumstances.
Are all of the disturbances and unrest
spontaneous? Or is somebody pulling the strings from behind the scenes?
That is what defense officials are now trying to ascertain.
"We are dealing with gangs of young people
coordinating their moves with one another through social networks and
mosques," said a police official. Upon closer inspection, however,
"there are hidden movements at play."
The most prominent culprit is the Islamic
Movement's Northern Branch. Unlike October 2000, the movement's
operatives have kept a low profile. They have been careful not publicly
show their faces during such times of chaos. On a purely philosophical
and motivational level, however, the Islamic Movement's ideological zeal
is certainly a factor.
In Tayibe, demonstrators echoed the statements
of the northern branch's firebrand leader, Sheikh Raed Salah, also
known as "the sheikh of Al-Aqsa." During a protest, they chanted, "We
will sacrifice our lives and our blood for Al-Aqsa."
During a demonstration at junction leading to
Umm al-Fahm, protesters promulgated Hamas' cherished tactic of
kidnapping soldiers and praised the abduction of the three Jewish
teenagers. A few hours before the North's main highways, including
routes 70 and 65, were awash in tensions and anger, Internet sites
affiliated with Hamas posted directives and instructions for protesters,
telling them exactly where to march.
Just as it did 14 years ago, the latest
conflagration was sparked in Umm el-Fahm, which is the northern branch's
major Israeli stronghold. Afterward, it spread like wildfire to other
areas. What began as a show of solidarity with the kidnappers of the
Jewish teenagers and a protest against the murder of the Arab youngster
from Shuafat has morphed into a full-blown public campaign in support of
The close links between the Islamic Movement's
northern branch and Hamas is no longer a secret. Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu this week instructed the state's top legal officials
to look into the possibility of declaring the organization "an
unauthorized entity." The initiative is identical to the government's
move to outlaw the fanatical "price-tag" perpetrators.
The main thrust of any move to ban the Islamic
Movement would be its ties to a terrorist organization like Hamas. It
isn't just the modern-day blood libel spouted by the movement's
followers who believe "Al-Aqsa is in danger." One must also consider the
fact that both Hamas and the Islamic Movement are aligned in opposition
to the State of Israel and its government under the pretext that Israel
and its government are plotting to destroy the mosque atop the Temple
"Through the movement's activities in [the
Temple Mount], more than in any other area, its strategy has come
clearly into focus: an escalation of tensions, activism and inflaming
the public," the Or Commission concluded in its report on the events of
There is also the ideological symbiosis
between both organizations. Dr. Shaul Bartal, the author of "The Way of
Jihad in Palestine," noted this week that the Muslim Brotherhood -- "the
father and mother" of extremist Islamist movements the world over --
believes that there are two movements representing the Arabs of
"The first is Hamas, headed by Ismail Haniyeh
and Khaled Mashaal," he said. "The second is the Islamic Movement which
represents the Arabs within the Green Line under the leadership of Raed
If the government does indeed outlaw the
northern branch, it will not be solely because of its extremist
ideology. Indeed, Salah has yet to recant his grand vision of
establishing a global Islamic caliphate whose capital would be in
Jerusalem. The movement has also disseminated some of the most vile,
vicious incitement and propaganda through its official publication,
where one can find descriptions of Jews as "the insects of eternity."
This body of evidence may be of peripheral
value, since the most significant rationale for outlawing the movement
is its significant ties with Hamas, ties that have been confirmed by
Shin Bet investigators. Authorities have learned that Hamas and the
Islamic Movement worked in tandem on a strategy centering around the
Temple Mount, Raed Salah's "pet issue." A number of Hamas operatives
arrested this past November in Jerusalem took part in these activities.
Investigators learned that the Islamic
Movement brought these operatives to the Temple Mount while Hamas
compensated them financially. The objective was to bolster the Muslim
presence on the Temple Mount plaza, particularly during the Jewish
holidays so as to deter Jewish visitors from the area.
Israeli security services also closed down two
offices belonging to the Islamic Movement in Jerusalem -- the "Al-Quds
for Development" and "Amarat al-Aqsa." The closures were initiated after
authorities received intelligence indicating that "the Jerusalem branch
of Hamas" was exploiting these institutions in order to proselytize.
Some individuals questioned in the case were ultimately indicted.
One of those detained, Majed Juabah, was
discovered to be in possession of a number of books and pamphlets
affiliated with the Islamic Movement and Hamas. Monri Kamal, the owner
of an east Jerusalem publishing house, is the one who received this
material from Juabah, a Hamas member. Some of these books bear the
official insignia of the Islamic Movement.
Investigators later learned that some of the
Jerusalem-based Hamas figures who were arrested had attended a
conference titled "Mahrajan Al-Aqsa is in danger," which was staged by
the Islamic Movement's northern branch in Umm al-Fahm. Participants at
the conference brandished the green Islamist flag used by both the
Islamic Movement and Hamas.
The speakers at the conference offered their
usual doses of incitement on "Al-Aqsa being in danger," although the
main topic on the agenda was not Jerusalem, but the fate of Mohammed
Morsi and his presidential ouster in Egypt. Indeed, the attendees were
preoccupied over what the future held in store for their Egyptian
cohorts in the Muslim Brotherhood.
'Lice that nest in the world's body'
The "breakthrough" piece of information was
provided to the Shin Bet by Mahmoud Mohammed Issa Toameh, a Saudi
resident originally from Tulkarm. Toameh first joined the Muslim
Brotherhood over 30 years ago. Eventually, he joined Hamas. In 2008, he
served as a member of the "General Shura Council," Hamas' top
decision-making body headed by Mashaal. It is the Islamist movement's
most senior executive organ, the top forum which determines the
organization's policies in every major area, including its military
Toameh was arrested by the Shin Bet. During
questioning, he told investigators that Hamas was exploiting the Islamic
Movement in Israel to transfer funds and put in motion many projects
and initiatives in Jerusalem. He also cited the funding Hamas has
provided for the Islamic Movement's activities on the Temple Mount.
"Under the guise of religious instruction, young men stay on the Temple Mount day and night," Toameh told the Shin Bet.
"Their real task is to be a constant presence
so as to prevent Jews from going up to the Temple Mount. Hamas pays
these young people a steady wage of between 4,000 and 5,000 shekels per
month. Hamas doesn't reveal its ties to the Islamic Movement and its
members so as not to put it in an uncomfortable position in the eyes of
the Israeli authorities."
Toameh also told the Shin Bet that he suspected there were "discrete ties" between Salah and the Hamas leadership.
The strengthening of ties between Hamas and
Salah's northern branch surprises nobody. Both organizations' websites
often quote each other and Salah has often appeared on Hamas media
outlets for interviews. In Khan Yunis, Haniyeh named a stadium after
Salah. Years ago, Salah and Hamas operatives were convicted of receiving
illicit funds from "The Charity Coalition," an umbrella group comprised
of a number of illegal Islamic institutions that were used as conduits
to funnel cash to Hamas. The charity is headed by the radical Egyptian
cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a man considered to be one of the most
important Muslim arbiters of the current generation. Qaradawi has in the
past sought to justify Palestinian suicide bombings against Israeli
The Al-Aqsa Institute, an Umm al-Fahm-based
outfit that belongs to the Islamic Movement's northern branch, was
closed by authorities over its intimate cooperation with Hamas civilian
agencies in Jerusalem. Its activities were also subsidized in part by
the Charity Coalition.
As if that wasn't enough, Salah's deputy,
Sheikh Kamak Khatib of Kafr Qana, has used his religious sermons to
decry Arab enlistment to national or civil service. An avowed opponent
of Zionism, he once wrote in the weekly publication Saut Al-Haq Wa'al
Hurriyeh ("The Voice of Justice and Freedom") that Israel was akin to
"lice nesting in the body of the Arab world that sucks its blood and
resources while hungering to conquer more land."
Israel, the sheikh alleged, "allowed flea-like
rabbis to harm Al-Aqsa, and then it found itself aligned against the
entire Islamic world which is ready to sacrifice all it holds dear for
Al-Aqsa's sake." Khatib has been arrested several times by security
forces and his extremist remarks have been quoted numerous times in the
The mountain of incriminating evidence is
being re-appraised and re-examined in light of recent developments.
While there is no shortage of damning evidence, the question remains
whether it would be substantial enough to pass legal and constitutional
muster. In other words, is the evidence sufficient enough to convince
the courts to accept a government decision banning the northern branch?
Another more fundamental question that will
need to be addressed is whether it is in the state's best interest to
outlaw the group, forcing the northern branch to go "underground."
Perhaps authorities would find it easier to keep a watchful eye on the
northern branch's activities, as long as they're done out in the open.
These are questions that the defense and security experts will have to
answer and explain to Netanyahu.
This week, Public Security Minister Yitzhak
Aharonovitch said that a majority of Israel's Arab citizens are
law-abiding citizens, indicating that the ones causing trouble are in
the minority. The police, which is tasked with maintaining law and order
while calming tensions, is working to prevent casualties on both sides
while "taking care not to provoke more demonstrators by [inflicting]
Meanwhile, certain individuals have suggested
that the silent majority, which rejects street protests, is not wholly
exempt from being responsible for what happens. Professor Rafi Israeli
of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a man considered to be one of the
more respected Middle Eastern scholars in the country and the author of
"The Arabs in Israel: A Surging New Identity," eloquently expresses
"The Arab citizens of the country are behaving
like the enemy these days," he said. "It is impossible to live in a
situation where they choose their rights and fight for them, but when we
are in conflict and war, they act like enemies and turn their backs on
the state. Even if the silent majority stays at home and doesn't riot,
it is not exempt from public expressions of loyalty. I don't accept the
premise that everybody who doesn't plant a bomb is to considered to be a
loyal citizen. He must prove his loyalty, such as protesting against
what is taking place now, doing national service waving flags. The
silent majority's passivity reflects a dual loyalty, in my view."
The professor believes that the northern
branch, if not actively fanning the flames of the recent unrest, is
providing the inspiration for it.
"There is a new generation of sheikhs that has
been inculcated on the doctrine of incitement propagated by Sheikhs
Raed Salah and Kamal Khatib," Israeli said.
"Their repudiation of and alienation from the state haven't grown smaller. On the contrary, they have expanded.
"The Israelization of Israeli Arabs is evaporating
before our very eyes. There is a manifest trend toward Islamization.
Indeed, every time a clash with the Palestinians erupts, they [the
Israeli Arabs] take their side, either as rioters and lawbreakers or as a
silent majority that maintains the right to be silent. I cannot call
them traitors for I have no expectations of them, but there are quite a
few enemies from among them in our midst. The sooner we recognize and
absorb this, the better."