Islamic Movement in Israel

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Raed Salah, the leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel

The Islamic Movement in Israel (also known as the Islamic Movement in 48 Palestine) is a movement that aims to advocate Islam among Israeli Arabs. It operates on three levels: religious (Islamic education, religious service), social (welfare services) and anti-Zionist (opposition to Israel and support for Palestinian nationalism). The movement is split into two branches: the hardline northern branch, and the more moderate southern branch.[1]


Before the establishment of the Movement[edit]

The origins of the Islamic Movement can be traced back to the late years of the Mandatory Palestine. Early organization began in the days of the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine, however, it only began gaining momentum after World War II as a result of cooperation between the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is the parent movement of the Islamic Movement in Israel.[2]

During the 1948 Palestine war, the movement cooperated with the Arab Higher Committee, much like the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which cooperated with the Egyptian military. As a result, it suffered a major setback following the war as all of its institutions in the newly formed Jewish state were shut down. During the period of martial law on Israeli Arabs between 1949 and 1966, the movement was suppressed and was unable to recover. The institutions that remained in the West Bank were put under the control of Jordanian authorities, who controlled the West Bank. Though a mild recovery took place in the Gaza Strip during the 1950s under Egyptian rule, there too its influence steadily declined until 1967.[3]

The Six-Day War in 1967 caused a resurgence of Palestinian support, both for the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had transformed from a puppet organization to a militant movement, and for Islamic Palestinian movements, among them the Islamic Movement in Israel. The newly created contact between Israeli Arabs and the Palestinian Arabs in the territories occupied in 1967, in which the movement had managed to remain somewhat organized, also contributed to this resurgence. As part of this new contact, members of the Islamic Movement in Israel were sent to study in religious institutions in the occupied territories.[4] At the same time, the government of Saudi Arabia began to allow Israeli Arabs to perform the Hajj to Mecca.

Establishment to the First Intifada[edit]

In 1971, the Islamic Movement in Israel was founded by Abdullah Nimar Darwish after he had completed his religious studies in Nablus.[5] During the 1970s the movement largely focused on establishing welfare services for the Muslim community parallel to those of the state.[6] Among its activities were provision of computers to schools, the establishment of an Islamic football league, marriage arrangement, charity and more.

Parallel to this charity work, several of the heads of the movement, led by 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.[7] This caused the movement to, at least officially, abandon terrorism. However, there have since been accusations that the movement has engaged in terrorist activities.

During the 1980s, the movement experienced a rapid increase in support.[4]

First Intifada to Al-Aqsa Intifada[edit]

With the outbreak of the First Intifada, the movement established the 'Islamic Relief Committee', whose purpose was to assist those in need in the occupied territories, and particularly those harmed by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) operations.

In 1989, the movement decided to participate in elections for several Arab settlements, in which it won control of six city councils and made substantial gains in other settlements. The most significant victory was achieved by Sheikh Raed Salah in Umm al-Fahm, which subsequently became the center of the movement.

The Oslo I Accord caused a split in the movement whereby the northern branch opposed the agreement (similarly to the position of Hamas), and the southern branch supported the agreement. In 1994, the activity of the movement was felt in the Jewish public when Salah attempted to mediate between Israel and Hamas on the issue of the captured Israeli soldier Nakhshon Waxman.

In 1995, the Israeli Shin Bet closed down the 'Islamic Relief Committee' 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, the movement decided to run for the Knesset, following three previous rejections of the idea. The decision cemented the divisions between the northern and southern branches of the movement, the former, led by Raed Salah, arguing that elections should be boycotted. The southern branch, led by Sheikh Ibrahim Sarsur, ran for elections together with the Arab Democratic Party, and since 2000 it runs independently under the name United Arab List.

Second Intifada to present day[edit]

Ahead of Ariel Sharon's visit at the Temple Mount, the movement stirred agitation among Israeli Arabs. After the visit, both branches of the movement continued to incite their followers to violence in order to "protect the mountain." According to the Or Commission, these calls for violence contributed significantly to the heated spirits of the Arab public and caused a severe worsening in the October 2000 events.

In 2002, the 'Humanitarian Rescue Committee' was shut down, and after a short period 'The Organization of the Humanitarian Rescue Committee' was established in its stead. In the same year Eli Yishai, then Interior Minister, decided to close the newspaper of the northern branch, though the decision was never implemented.

In 2003, the heads of the northern branch of the movement were arrested under suspicion of aiding Hamas, of which two-thirds were released almost immediately. The remaining suspects were detained, but most were released during 2005 after signing a plea bargain. Both the arrests and the plea bargain stirred opposition from both the left wing and right wing camps of Israeli politics. The main offenses of which those detained were accused were financial offenses such as tax evasion, but also contact with a foreign agent and contact with a terrorist group. Ultimately, only the economic offenses were proved true.

These two events, as well as the history of incitement by the movement, have been defining factors in the group's image among the Jewish public, most of which views it as a terrorist organization, and to this day there are calls to ban the movement.

In 2007, in response to Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's comments on the Holocaust, the Islamic Movement (southern branch) leader Abdullah Nimr Darwish "slammed" the Holocaust denial. He also said that antisemitic texts in the Muslim world were contrary to the true spirit of Islam. At the same time, he criticized Israel for not supporting a Saudi peace initiative involving Hamas and Fatah.[5]

In 2012, the Murabitat and Mourabitoun were founded by the northern brunch of the Islamic Movement after fear arose for changes in the current status quo at Temple Mount. In September 2015, the Israeli government banned both groups stating they were a source of incitement and violence.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ettinger, Yair (2004-10-25). "בת ברית מפתיעה לשרון - התנועה האיסלמית" [A Surprising Ally for Sharon - the Islamic Movement] (in Hebrew). Walla! News. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  2. ^ Danny Rabinowitz. "התעוררות דתית, פונדמנטליזם ורדיקליזם דתי אצל המוסלמים אזרחי ישראל" [Religious Awakening, Radicalism and Religious Fundamentalism among Muslim Citizens of Israel] (in Hebrew). Matach: The Center for Educational Technology. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  3. ^ Yisraeli, Rafi (1993). Muslim Fundamentalism in Israel. London: Brassey's. p. 18. ISBN 978-0080417936.  as cited at:
  4. ^ a b Raphael Israeli (1999-10-15). "The Islamic Movement in Israel". Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  5. ^ a b Barkat, Amiram (2007-02-12). "Founder of Islamic Movement in Israel slams Holocaust denial". Haaretz. Retrieved 15 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Abu Raia, Isam (1991). "Umnal-Fakhim – Leadership and Organization (MA Thesis)". Johns Hopkins University.  as cited at:
  7. ^ Nachman Tal (February 2000). "The Islamic Movement in Israel". Strategic Assessment (Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel-Aviv University) 2 (4). Archived from the original on 24 October 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-03. 
  8. ^ Hadid, Diaa (9 September 2015). "Israel Bans 2 Muslim Groups That Protest at Jerusalem Holy Site". New York Times. Retrieved 10 September 2015.