Islamic Movement Northern Branch deputy released after incitement accusation

A court in Nazareth ordered the release of Sheikh Kamal al-Khatib, the deputy head of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, who was arrested last month on suspicion of inciting violence at the height of Israel’s conflict with Gaza, which sparked internal Arab-Jewish unrest.

Al-Khatib was released under restrictive conditions and has been barred from accessing the internet, making speeches or giving interviews for 45 days. He was also barred from gatherings of more than 45 people.

Tensions between Israel’s Jewish and Arab communities spiraled into mob violence in numerous ethnically mixed communities last month — during the 11-day conflict with Hamas — with several cities descending into mayhem, and police failing to contain the most serious internal unrest to grip the country in years.

The Shin Bet and other security forces arrested al-Khatib in the northern Arab Israeli town Kafr Kanna on May 14, sparking major clashes between locals and officers carrying out the arrest.

Shortly after his arrest, footage circulated showing the cleric days earlier condemning the violence he had been accused of inciting.

Commenting on a mob attack of a Jewish bystander in the town, he said, “If I had been there myself I would have rescued him, just as some of the villagers did. What happened is contrary to the values of Islam.”

In 2015, Israel banned the Islamic Movement’s northern branch, citing incitement and support for terror actions.

The group rejects the Oslo peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians and boycotts national elections on the grounds that they give legitimacy to the institutions of the Jewish state.

On Friday, a judge approved a police request to extend the detention of a Lod imam also allied with the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement and also suspected of inciting violence during last month’s tensions.

Sheikh Yusuf Albaz, 63, an imam at Lod’s Great Mosque, will remain under arrest until Monday, a spokesperson for the police said. On Thursday, a judge had ordered Albaz released to house arrest, but police submitted an appeal, which was accepted Friday by the Lod District Court.

Albaz was arrested over social media posts that appeared to encourage violence against the police. In one clip he shared from the Australian horror movie “Wolf Creek,” a man is shown murdering traffic police officers after getting a ticket. Albaz wrote: “The best way to deal with injustice.”

Sheikh Yusuf Albaz appears for a hearing at the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court on June 17, 2021. (Flash90)

The imam has also referred to Israel as an “enemy state” in the past, and wished “death” upon the “Zionist occupation” in previous online posts.

In a 2012 clip aired by Channel 12, Albaz was shown addressing a mob amid clashes with police, accusing Israel of carrying out “dozens of incidents of slaughter” and vowing that Israel will “exit the land” before the Arabs do.

Albaz was questioned by investigators in the Lahav 433 unit and reportedly told them that he does not take back his social media posts. “That’s my Facebook. I am responsible for it and I stand behind every word that I posted. This isn’t incitement,” Albaz reportedly told investigators.

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