Middle East Monitor
In an exclusive interview with the Middle East Monitor, the head of the Islamic movement in Israel, Shaykh Raed Salah, has warned that, “The Israelis are laying the foundations so that the prevailing atmosphere will be “right” for the completion of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians which started in 1948 and has been on-going ever since.”
Salah who is regarded by Palestinians as the custodian of Al Aqsa Mosque said, “Jerusalem suffers from the ongoing Israeli occupation and because of this it is exposed to Israel’s Judaisation programme. Islamic and Christian holy sites are subjected to non-stop attacks, including mosques, churches and cemeteries.”
Salah said, “I am convinced that the Arab revolutions will redefine the Palestinian cause even though some sides have tried to distort this definition, claiming that the issue of Palestine is for Palestinians alone. The revolutions have confirmed that the cause of Palestine is a cause for the whole Arab and Islamic world and a cause for all who cherish freedom and humanitarianism.”
MEMO: Could you describe the current situation in Jerusalem? What is happening on the ground to Palestinians living there, and what of Al-Aqsa Mosque and other Islamic sanctuaries?
Sh. Raed Salah: Jerusalem suffers from the ongoing Israeli occupation and because of this it is exposed to Israel’s Judaisation programme. Islamic and Christian holy sites are subjected to non-stop attacks, including mosques, churches and cemeteries.
Al-Aqsa Mosque in particular is subject to the occupation’s excesses as well as excavations and the demolition of surrounding features. There is a very serious possibility that the Israeli occupation authorities will realise their crazy dreams which are announced explicitly; quite simply, they want to destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque and build a temple in its place.
Palestinian citizens of Jerusalem face great suffering as a result of the Israeli occupation. They face restrictions on how they earn their living; there are obstacles placed before them to stop them from building on their own land; and are seeing the Israeli-controlled Jerusalem Municipality confiscating Palestinian land under unacceptable circumstances. They also live with the threat that their identity cards will be confiscated and they will be expelled from their birthplace. This actually happened recently to elected Legislative Council Member Mohammed Abu Tair, in a way which threatens every other member of Council elected to represent the people of Jerusalem, and former minister Khaled Abu Arafa.
Jerusalemites feel that all of their institutions are at risk, including health, educational, literature and social bodies, despite the taxes they have to pay which are imposed by the Municipality. These so-called taxes are little more than a means to confiscate the citizens’ land and homes under the pretext of tax evasion.
MEMO: What are the conditions of Palestinians living in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in 1948? Could you describe the socio-economic, legal and political challenges that they face in the light of Israeli legislation and restrictions imposed on them?
RS: Personally, I am convinced that the reality of the 1948 territories can be summed up in three schemes that are implemented by the Israeli establishment against the Palestinian community in the 1948 land.
1. The efforts of the Israeli establishment to separate its Palestinian citizens from their Palestinian, Arab and Islamic connections.
2. The Israeli establishment’s attempts to dismantle Palestinian society, so that it becomes a pool of individuals and nothing else.
3. The Israelis are laying the foundations so that the prevailing atmosphere will be “right” for the completion of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians which started in 1948 and has been ongoing ever since. First, individuals are expelled followed by groups; after that, it might become even more serious.
Everything that the Israeli establishment is putting into practice against Palestinian society, from legal discrimination and religious persecution to the daily confiscation and erosion of rights, is part of the three schemes noted above.
Here, I want to mention that the Israeli establishment gives all its policies and practices legal cover, so that everything it does appears to be legal, such as the confiscation of Palestinian-owned land and the demolition of Palestinian homes. The Israeli establishment has ratified a number of laws to cover many aspects of this injustice under which it has destroyed many homes and even entire villages in the Negev desert.
The latest example is the law allowing the authorities to withdraw citizenship. In defiance of all international norms, the Israelis passed legislation allowing them to withdraw citizenship from Palestinians and expel them from their homes; and all of it is quite “legal” in Israel.
MEMO: What are your thoughts on the negotiations? Israeli negotiators and the PA are having talks about the possibility of having a “population exchange” together with “land swaps” in order to establish a Palestinian state; what are your views on this and how do the people on the ground feel about it?
RS: I can confirm that all political movements in the Palestinian territories, including the masses, refuse to accept such exchanges. They see it, as I do, as a scheme to carry out the expulsion of Palestinians from their land along the lines of what happened in the Nakba of 1948.
MEMO: Are you in contact with any members of the PLO negotiating team? What, in your view, would be a just solution of this conflict?
RS: My relationship is as that between the High Follow-up Committee and the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian society in general with all its institutions and its factions.
As for the second part of your question, I think the question itself is unfair to the Palestinian people. We are always being asked our opinion on what the solution is, but at the same time the Israeli occupation continues its Judaisation of Jerusalem and the West Bank. In other words, this question is asked of us, while the reality of the situation makes an answer meaningless. Hence, I say that when there is a true chance for the establishment of a Palestinian state, I will give an answer to this question.
MEMO: The Islamic Movement in (1948) Palestine has for years comprised of two factions, with you leading the northern movement. The two movements have recently come together in Israel. Why now? What made them come together? And what sort of impact do you think this will have on Palestinians within Israel?
RS: The Islamic movement split in 1996, which saw the emergence of two schools of thought. Today, however, both groups are moving towards the unity of Islamic action and the unity of the Islamic movement. Palestinians inside Israel view such a move with joy as they believe that it empowers them, not just the Islamic movement.
The Islamic movement in the 1948 Palestinian territories was established in the seventies and has gone through three stages:
1. The establishment stage which ended with an arrest campaign by the Israeli authorities against members of the movement in 1978.
2. After the arrests, and in the middle of the eighties, local institutions were founded and the organisational structure included all members of the movement. This stage ended with the departure of some members who decided to participate in elections for the Israeli Knesset and become part of the Israeli political process.
3. The third stage saw the widening of the scope of Islamic work based on education. The movement developed educational and advocacy projects which corresponded with our understanding of our religion.
During this period, the movement increased its popular struggle and deepened its participation in internal Palestinian activities, announcing a number of projects that touch the lives of ordinary people though the adoption and understanding of many concerns. As a result, the movement started to establish a network of organisations and service providers to help Muslims and non-Muslims inside Israel: the Zakat committees, for example, and the reform committees and other social institutions such as Sanad Institution for Motherhood and Childhood, and many others.
Since the nineties, the Islamic movement has focused on the concerns about Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque. We realised the magnitude of the conspiracy against Jerusalem and its people and Al-Aqsa, and the Islamic movement took upon itself to establish the Aqsa Foundation which has become very popular as it is the eye that watches closely what the Israeli establishment does against our holy sites and Al-Aqsa Mosque and issues warnings about Israel’s ugly occupation crimes.
MEMO: The Arab uprisings have held the international community’s and international media’s attention over the past few months, as dictators and regimes have toppled. What is your initial assessment of the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East? In particular, how do you think Egypt’s regime change will affect Palestine?
RS: I am convinced that the Arab revolutions will redefine the Palestinian cause even though some sides have tried to distort this definition, claiming that the issue of Palestine is for Palestinians alone. The revolutions have confirmed that the cause of Palestine is a cause for the whole Arab and Islamic world and a cause for all who cherish freedom and humanitarianism.
This means that the Israeli occupation authorities know that today they are not only fighting the Palestinian people, but also the entire Arab, Islamic and humanitarian world as long as they continue to deny the rights of the Palestinians to establish a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
MEMO: The international Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) campaign has begun to make ripples, perhaps even waves, in the international community, with celebrities, parliamentarians and activists supporting the campaign. What are your views on the BDS movement and on international activists coming to Palestine to help end the occupation?
RS: Today the people of Palestinian know that the UN recognised the State of Israel conditionally, namely that Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their land. However, it is clear that the Israeli establishment rejects the right of return and this means that it has not fulfilled the conditions for its recognition by the UN.
Thus, the public in Palestine say, quite frankly, that Israel has rendered itself into an invalid entity in every sense of the word. Palestinians wonder why Israel feels able to demand that they acknowledge its existence while at the same time the Zionist state refuses to recognise Palestine. Why is recognition so one-sided?
Hence, it is natural for Palestinians to support the BDS campaign as it is obvious that the Israeli entity is a false reality which should not be recognised by others.
MEMO: What does it mean for you to participate in the Freedom Flotilla?
RS: To me, participation in the Freedom Flotilla means to take part in a global effort wherein people from all over the world, from all continents and religions meet to announce that is time to lift the siege on Gaza; that it is time for Gaza to live in freedom and independence and to enjoy full sovereignty over its sea, land and sky as a step towards the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
At the same time, participation in the Freedom Flotilla represents to us, Palestinians inside the 1948-occupied territories known as Israel, a return to the roots which some have tried to keep from us. We are renewing the communication conduits between ourselves and our Palestinian, Arabic, Islamic and humanitarian history.