On Tuesday, Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, appeared in a Jerusalem court after being accused of incitment of violence. The court adjourned the ruling until October 27.

However, Sheikh Salah, who is well-known in Israel and Palestine as well as in the Arab world for his defense of Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera that the charges were "politically motivated" and were part of the political witch-hunt designed to silence him.

A native of the northern Palestinian city of Umm al Fahem, 57-year-old Salah has been elected mayor three times.

He is also known for resisting the Israeli government's policies on Jerusalem and its discriminatory practices against its Palestinian citizens.


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Al Jazeera: When and why was the Islamic Movement founded and where does it get its funding? 

Sheikh Raed Salah: The Islamic Movement was founded in the 1970s in the village of Kufr Qasem by Sheikh Abdullah Nimer Darwish.

The movement has several objectives and mandates that revolve around serving our communities socially, politically and spiritually.

This government has reached the point of committing and encouraging an outright murder of our people in broad day light in the West Bank and Jerusalem and against Palestinians who are citizens of Israel.

We preach and teach Islamic values as well as focus on strengthening the social fabric of our communities through establishing social institutions and public events and festivals. 

We also work on the political empowerment of our communities throughout the state and in the occupied Palestinian territories.

This comes through civil rights advocacy and other forms of social activism. Some of our activities focus on defending al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and other Islamic holy sites throughout the country and the occupied Palestinian territories.

As for our funding, we are a self-sustained organisation. We have membership dues that fund the majority of our activities. We are also part of the "Zakat" (Islamic mandatory charitable tax) committees that also help fund our activities.

Al Jazeera: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the movement of "inciting violence". How would you respond to such charges and is this part of a long history of Israeli crackdown on the movement?

Salah: Anyone who looks at the reality today in Jerusalem and everywhere in Israel and Palestine will see a totally different picture. The Israeli governments - especially this government - have become a factory of violence and racist incitement against us.

This government has reached the point of committing and encouraging an outright murder of our people in broad day light in the West Bank and Jerusalem and against Palestinians who are citizens of Israel.

We are the victims of Israeli violence and its political witch-hunt. 

Al Jazeera: What has triggered this latest round of violence and can you elaborate a little here on what exactly is going on at al-Aqsa mosque compound in terms of spacial and temporal divisions?

Salah: What triggered the latest round of violence is the Israeli government's aggression against Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque in addition to its aggression against Gaza which has been increasing day after day.

The Israeli forces' daily attacks on al-Aqsa, and its mass arrests and punishment of Palestinian civilians, who are trying to protect it, have contributed to the spiral of violence today.

Netanyahu bears full responsibility for the situation we are in today.

Al Jazeera: Who are the extremist Jewish groups that have been storming al-Aqsa? Do they call for the destruction of the mosque? How do you see this ending?

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Salah: First, let me explain something here. Although there are many extremist Jewish organisations out there that are trying to destroy our holy places in Jerusalem, in reality these organisations are only part of the larger Israeli government designs.

It is the Israeli government that put forward the policies and schemes to divide and eventually destroy al-Aqsa Mosque, then uses Jewish extremist hate groups to execute its policies.

This is very clear to us. Take for example a case of 10-20 extremist Jewish individuals trying to attack al-Aqsa Mosque while falsely claiming that they want to build their fictitious temple there.

The Israeli government will typically allocate at least 400 heavily armed soldiers for their protection to enable them to wreak havoc inside it. This is all too obvious.

Al Jazeera: What is the movement's plan of action for the coming period?

Salah: Our plans are the same as before. We will continue to defend al-Aqsa Mosque through our presence there, and by continuing to pray there.

We also encourage Palestinians everywhere to worship in it and visit it. Our work is lawful and peaceful because we are only exercising our right to worship freely in our own holy places.

This entails a commitment to defend the Mosque and all of our holy places against the daily Israeli instigations and attacks against it.

Source: Al Jazeera