Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

How these terror flames were lit

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Nadav Shragai

Ala Raed Ahmed Zayud, who ran down and stabbed four Israelis near Hadera on Oct. 11, doesn't answer to any leader. The teens and young adults coming out of the Shu'afat refugee camp, which has essentially been taken over by Hamas, to stab and run over Israelis over the last week also don't have any leadership. Even the murderers who came out of the east Jerusalem neighbourhoods of Jabel Mukaber and Sur Baher weren't affiliated with any particular organisation.

And yet, the face of this ostensibly faceless evil - lone-wolf, spontaneous, popular terrorism - is very clear. Ever since Rosh Hashanah [Jewish New Year] in mid-September, all the branches and affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood in Israel and the region have been waging a coordinated, systematic campaign to brainwash the Arabs living among us, using lies and false data concerning the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

At the helm of this campaign are two key movements: Hamas - a well-known, proclaimed terrorist organisation - and one that still operates under the confines of Israeli law: the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, headed by Sheikh Ra'ed Salah.

Just like the dispute surrounding the Western Wall 90 years ago, this Islamic campaign of incitement revolves around the "Al-Aqsa is in danger" libel everyone is talking about in recent days - false allegations that Israel is planning to take over the Al-Aqsa compound, or the Temple Mount, as the Jews call it. Over the last 20 years, Salah and his movement have become the chief agents and most prominent disseminators of this lie.

On Sept. 11, Ahmed Zayud, the perpetrator of the terrorist attack near Hadera, was among the thousands of Muslims who attended the "Al-Aqsa is in danger" festival in Umm al-Fahm. The event was orchestrated by none other than Salah himself, the high priest of Al-Aqsa alarmists of our day. At the event, he yelled hysterically that Muslims are willing to die and become shahids (martyrs) to protect Al-Aqsa. And it wasn't the first time he made such remarks.

The crowd responded rhythmically, loudly: "With spirit and blood we will redeem Al-Aqsa!"

After the event, Salah's remarks were widely distributed on Arab media outlets and on Hamas networks, presented in a way that was even more extreme: to the sound of military marches, accented with drums, adorned with pictures of terrorists, terrorist attacks and victims. The message was as sharp as a knife.

Ahmed Zayud from Umm al-Fahm, 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra from Shuafat who went on to stab a 13-year-old Jewish boy in Jerusalem, and 19-year-old Zubahi Ibrahim, who stabbed a Jewish seminary student in Jerusalem, were all exposed to this incitement on Hamas websites. They, and many others, were quick to grab a knife and do what it takes to "die for Al-Aqsa".

For some reason, Salah is not in prison yet. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently floated the idea of outlawing the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, but the notion is not a new one. Netanyahu and his predecessors have already tried to enact laws against the movement, but failed. Salah, whose father and two brothers served in the Israel Police force, was only recently indicted over some of the most egregious incitement ever heard in Israel.

Salah combined the "Al-Aqsa is in danger" tale with the story of "Palestinian blood" that still clings to the Jews' hands "on their doorways, in their food and in their beverages." In a sermon he gave in Jerusalem, he tried to resurrect the sick and twisted old blood libel that has hounded the Jews about "bread dipped in children's blood." He even described his biggest dream: an Islamic caliphate with Jerusalem as its capital that would "control the entire Middle East."

The Israeli justice system operates slowly. Salah was convicted by the court and sentenced to 11 months in jail, but he appealed the sentence. In mid-October, he openly declared at the Jerusalem District Court that even if he is put in jail, he will continue on his current path and that "with spirit and blood we will redeem Al-Aqsa!"

In the meantime, Salah is free.

Several of his movement's members maintain active ties with high-ranking Hamas activists, be it in the West Bank, Gaza or abroad.

Some 12 years ago, Salah was first convicted of contacting a foreign agent over similar relationships. Since then he has been careful. Five years ago, he was sentenced to nine months in prison for assaulting a police officer. Last year he was convicted again for interfering with police work, but only given a suspended sentence.

Buses full of incitement

In the Shuafat refugee camp in east Jerusalem, residents parade models of Al-Aqsa Mosque through the streets and almost openly trade in weapons, drugs and stolen property. But in Umm al-Fahm and other Israeli Arab towns in the "Triangle region" near Haifa there is an entirely different, no less alarming phenomenon. Over the last several months, a particularly colourful bus has been driving around, decorated with symbols and paintings pertaining to the "captive," "desecrated," "downtrodden," "stolen," mosque. The bus has been given a name: "Al-Aqsa - my responsibility."

There is no shortage of money. As long as the northern branch isn't declared illegal, the funding keeps coming in and the brainwashing continues. In Istanbul, for example, the Waqf al-Umma for Al-Aqsa has been established, which directs funds to Jerusalem. Who is behind this initiative, you ask? You guessed it: Ra'ed Salah.

The "International Jerusalem Institution" that operates in Beirut and supports suicide terrorist attacks and "resistance to Israeli steps" also contributes money to activity either organised by or affiliated with Salah.

Another organisation active in Jerusalem, which brings the women of the Murabitat (a group of women who receives salaries to systematically harass Jews on the Temple Mount) to the Mount, is called the "organisation of the flags."

Throughout the years, the organisation of the flags transported the Murabitat to the Temple Mount. The women were picked up in rotation from the villages of the north, the central towns and from the south and Jerusalem itself. Sundays were the day of the northern villages. Wednesdays were usually the day of the southern town of Rahat. Incidentally, just this week, the head of Rahat's northern chapter of the Islamic Movement in Israel was arrested on suspicion that he had been involved in riots in the south.

Hundreds of buses were used for transport, as needed. Fifteen buses were purchased with donated funds. The organisation of the flags had far-reaching plans: Not only to provide housing for the Murabitun at hotels near Al-Aqsa, but also to start the "Omra" - a project promoting Muslim pilgrimage to Al-Aqsa instead of to Mecca. This is a religious innovation designed to aggrandise Al-Aqsa more and more to the point of competing with Mecca and Medina for the title of holiest site in Islam. The project was inspired by Salah.

Years ago, Salah tried, and almost succeeded, to import water from the Holy Zamzam Well (a well located within the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca) to the Temple Mount. The plan was to elevate the status of Al-Aqsa, and of course his own status along the way.


Searching for Israel's soft underbelly

From time to time, the Shin Bet internal security service discovers another source of funding, another channel of support for Salah's group. Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon has already outlawed several of these organisations. But as these institutions close, new ones, with different names, open weeks later. It is a game of cat and mouse. As long as the Islamic Movement in Israel is still legal, there is no way to prevent funds from being funnelled into it. The only thing left to do is to attack the source of the money.

Hamas is one of the organisations that take advantage of Salah's legal status to advance its own objectives. Unsurprisingly, Salah is one of the most popular characters on Hamas-affiliated networks and websites. For years he has provided Hamas with (verbal) ammunition, which is now being backed by action - terrorist attacks and riots.

At last year's 19th "Al-Aqsa is in danger" conference, Salah described the Israeli "occupation" as the "worst oppressor on earth," which uses its power and its weapons to destroy Al-Aqsa. He called for popular resistance among Israeli Arabs and stressed that if the circumstances were better, "Muslims would march en mass toward Al-Aqsa and cross every barrier and obstacle in their way. Even a nuclear bomb would not stop them."

But the current circumstances are "limiting," he said. "The people in Gaza can't help, nor can the people in the West Bank. Everything is up to us," he urged Israel's Arab citizens. "Women and men in the Triangle, in the Galilee, in the Negev, in Kafr Kanna, in Jerusalem itself and in the rest of the towns, like Haifa and Sakhnin."

Dr. Ronit Marzan, an expert on Israeli Arab society and Palestinian society, has been studying Salah and his sermons for years. She notes one sermon in particular in which Salah said that anyone who completes three tasks - jihad (holy war), ribat (fortification) and istishhad (martyrdom) - in the Al-Aqsa compound, will be repaid by Allah 500 times more than those who complete the tasks elsewhere. She notes that the head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel now publicly defines the Murabitun he has sent to the Temple Mount as juhadeen - fighters against the infidels. "He tells them to prepare for jihad, and the implication is clear - to die on the altar of the Temple Mount," she says.

"When you speak to this man on a personal level, he is nice enough and polite," she says. "But if you put a podium in front of him, he enters a sort of madness. Something in his personal biography, maybe the fact that his father and brothers served as police officers, brings him to adopt these decibel levels and to reach these intensities. In my opinion, he is trying to cleanse that dishonour from his family's history.

"He is trying to incite the entire Israeli Arab sector to launch a multi-participant intifada [uprising]. Salah is a megalomaniac who is trying to inflame the region and wants to be perceived as a protector of holy places... The path is Al-Aqsa. For years he has been searching for Israel's soft underbelly - sometimes it is the Bedouin in the Negev, sometimes it is the mixed cities, but above all it is Al-Aqsa."


An Imagined Reality

Like many "Al-Aqsa is in danger" agents around the world, Salah also relies on an incident that occurred on the Temple Mount in 1969, when a mentally unstable Christian tourist from Australia set fire to the mosque. The incident set off a wave of riots across the Muslim world. The arsonist, Denis Michael Rohan, was hospitalised at a psychiatric institution and was later deported back to Australia where he remained committed until he died. Israeli authorities managed to extinguish the physical fire at the mosque, but they could not douse the flames of hatred and lies that followed the incident.

To this day Salah still blames the State of Israel for burning the mosque. He says that the materials used to set the mosque on fire could only have been Israeli. He also invented in his imaginative mind a story about Israel detaining fire trucks that came from the West Bank in hopes that the mosque would burn to the ground. This never happened.

The "Al-Aqsa is in danger" tale has countless manifestations: horrible cartoons depicting snakes, dragons, bulldozers or Jews dressed in ultra-Orthodox garb choking, demolishing, digging or slithering underground to destroy Al-Aqsa; illustrations featuring Israeli heads of state of past and present hacking the dome of the rock with axes; and even delusional stories of chemical agents that Israel has infused into the ground under the mosque in an effort to topple it.

Dr. Taysir al-Tamimi, a clergyman from the Palestinian Authority, has asserted repeatedly that "the foundations of Al-Aqsa have been removed and chemical substances were injected into its stones to melt them. That is why the Mosque is hanging in the air."

Yasser Arafat, the late leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, at one time received an official report on alleged plans hatched by Israeli scientists at the Weizmann Institute to set off an artificial earthquake that would bring Al-Aqsa down.

Does Salah believe his own lies? In October 2000, during the first days of the Second Intifada (the Al-Aqsa Intifada), which lasted several years, there was a wave of violent riots and incidents instigated by Israeli Arabs. Twelve Israeli Arabs were killed in those incidents, and the Israeli government appointed an investigative committee to look into the deaths. The committee, dubbed the Or Committee, also investigated the Islamic Movement in Israel and Ra'ed Salah's role in the riots.

The three committee members, including Arab judge Hashem Hatib, unanimously concluded that "it is inconceivable that Sheikh Salah actually believes that the Israeli government plans to demolish the mosques and build the Temple in their stead, as he claims."

They wrote that there was no possible conclusion other than that he made these claims to gain political power, to recruit supporters and to generate conflict. His calls to liberate Al-Aqsa with blood, especially as they were made in the mass rallies he organised, served to "escalate the already tense atmosphere among the Arab sector on the eve of the October events."

Not much has changed since then. Salah continues to incite, and many of the terrorists - stabbers, car rammers and shooters - who killed and wounded Jews in recent years, did so because they truly believed that Al-Aqsa was in danger. Fifty years ago, the State of Israel, the home of the Jewish people, deposited the Jews' holiest site in the hands of a competing religion, Islam, which reveres the site as only the third holiest. Israel relinquished Jews' right to pray there, limited Jews' visitation rights and agreed to the construction of two more mosques there (Al-Marwani Mosque in Solomon's Stables, built by Salah's associates, and the ancient Al-Aqsa under the well-known upper Al-Aqsa).

But Salah and his followers never let the facts get in the way of their imagined reality. They incite again and again that Al-Aqsa is in danger, that the Jews are desecrating the site with their "filthy feet", and that they are making Jerusalem "impure". Prominent figures in the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and many others often repeat these claims.

Recently, a Palestinian writer living in Gaza wrote an op-ed under the pen name Sama Hassan describing her joy when her daughter informed her that she wished to become a martyr and murder Israeli soldiers. "I was overjoyed to see my young daughter shed tears as she held her new mobile phone and used the most advanced technology to watch a video about one of the martyrs [who died recently] in the Al-Aqsa events," Hassan wrote, according to MEMRI.


Camp of Terror

In Shuafat, in northern Jerusalem, which bred several of the terrorists of recent weeks, the reality is a little more complicated. The "Al-Aqsa is in danger" lies are well integrated there as well, but the camp has also become a kind of no-man's-land in recent years. With the separation barrier separating the camp from the Jewish neighbourhood of Pisgat Ze'ev, it has become a walled-off island of crime, drugs, neglect, poverty and now thousands of guns that are handed over from one person to the next.

Shuafat is the only Palestinian refugee camp situated inside sovereign Israeli territory. It was erected by the Jordanians several years before the Six-Day War in 1967. The initial residents were refugees who fled from various parts of modern-day Israel and settled in 1948 on the ruins of the Jewish Quarter. Sewage runs along the alleyways and the stench of garbage, which is not often removed, is strong. The Jerusalem municipality, the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA have failed to provide solutions. It is into this void that Hamas and criminal elements insinuate themselves and take root.

Between the camp and the Jewish neighbourhoods there are checkpoints, fences and walls, but there is no barrier between Shuafat and the adjacent West Bank. That is where the guns and drugs come from. That is also the source of the criminal elements, including criminals fleeing from the Palestinian Authority.

The police and the Shin Bet have been avoiding the necessary "thorough cleansing" of the camp, despite the residents' repeated requests. It is sensitive and dangerous, Israel's defence establishment argues, and in the meantime no one is willing to take responsibility. One of the residents told us this week that if security forces were to enter the camp and confiscate all the weapons roaming around (a move suggested by former police commander Aryeh Amit in an interview recently), "World War III would erupt."

In the meantime, the police and security forces are only attempting localised actions. After every terrorist attack whose perpetrators come from the camp, they go to the terrorists' homes and inquire: Did their families know? Did they cover up? This week it emerged that a demonstration of how to stab Jews was distributed on a social media site to which the camp's children have access. The children and teens often use social media to exchange information and praise various terrorist attacks in the region.

Many of the adult residents openly support the terrorists and the terrorist attacks, and take pride in them. Photographs of car rammers and stabbers from the slightly more distant past adorn the walls of many homes in the camp, alongside pictures of Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. The kidnapping and murder of teenager Muhammad Abu-Khdeir, a resident of the camp, by Jewish assailants last year, served to distil the residents' hatred toward the Jews even more. Only a handful will have the courage to say aloud what perhaps others also feel - that it is time for dialogue and real government action to clean up the camp.

Nadav Shragai is a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs specialising in the dispute over Jerusalem. He served as a journalist and commentator at Ha'aretz between 1983 and 2009 and is currently a journalist and commentator at Israel Hayom, © Israel Hayom (, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.


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