The 21st Century Phenomenon



The trace of the Islamic Movement in Israel goes back to the British mandate in Palestine in the 1930s’ as parallel movement of the Palestinian Arabs to the Muslims Brotherhood in Egypt, with similar goals. The group reemerged after 1967 and the Six Days War when Saudi Arabia allowed Muslim ISRAELI ARABS to perform the Hajj to Mecca and members of the Islamic Movement in Israel were sent to study in religious institutions in the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. 


In 1971 the Islamic Movement in Israel was founded by Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish after he had completed his religious studies in Nablus.  During the 1970s the movement largely focused on establishing welfare services for the Muslim community in Israel, parallel to those of the state. 


Parallel to this work, several of the heads of the movement, lead by Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish, established an organization called Osrat al-Jihad (“The Families of Jihad), one of the first Islamic terrorist groups in Israel, with the goal of establishing “an Arab Islamic state in Palestine”. 


The heads of the organization were arrested in 1979 following an attempted terrorist attack. This caused the movement to, at least officially, abandon terrorism. During the 1980s and the escalating confrontation with the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip the movement experienced a rapid increase in support among Israeli Arabs. 


In 1989 the movement decided to participate in elections for several Arab settlements, in which it won control of 6 town councils and made substantial gains in other settlements. The most significant victory was achieved by Sheikh Raed Salah in his home town Umm El Fahem, which subsequently became the center of the movement. 


The Oslo accords of 09/1993 caused a split in the movement whereby the northern branch, led by the charismatic Raed Salah opposed the agreement, coherent to the Hamas position, and the southern branch, led by Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish supported the agreement and led a policy of reaching out to Israel. Nowadays (10/2009) there is a total rift between the two offshoots. 


In 1995 the Israeli security service, Shin.Bet, closed down the ‘Islamic Relief Committee’, affiliated to the Islamic Movement, after it was found that the body had been granting financial assistance to the families of Hamas members. It was quickly reopened under the name ‘The Humanitarian Rescue Committee’, whose objectives were almost identical. In 1997 the committee was closed a second time (though only for a short period), and subsequently restrictions were placed upon it. 


In 1996 another division split the Islamic Movement when the movement decided to run for the Israeli Parliament – Knesset. the Northern branch argued that elections should be boycotted while the Southern branch ran for elections together with the Arab Democratic Party, and since 2000 it runs independently under the name United Arab List in Israel. 


Since the breach of the second Palestinian Intifada (uprising), in 10/2000, the Northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel adopted a very radical approach under the religious slogan “Al-Aqsa is in danger”. According to the Islamic Movement narrative the Jews are aliens to Palestine with no rights whatsoever in the Middle East. The Jews’ final goal is to expel all the Arabs from historical Palestine in order to create, instead, a Jewish racial state. Any archeological evidence which proves otherwise is a Jewish forgery and any written text is a Jewish conspiracy. In order to undermine the Arabs right to Palestine the Jews plan to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The immediate role of the Islamic Movement in Israel is, therefore, to protect al-Aqsa. 


The Northern branch of the Islamic movement is able to mobilize, in any given moment, dozens of thousands of Muslim youngsters to provoke unrest in Jerusalem whenever Sheikh Raed Salah pleases so. Between 30 up to 60 thousand people take part n the annual meetings of the Northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, since 2000, in Umm El Fahem – each year under the slogan “Save al-Aqsa”.   


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