(source: Haaretz / Y-Net News / VOCfm Online)
A Jerusalem court on Wednesday sentenced Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, to nine months in prison. Salah was convicted of taking part in an affray and assaulting a policeman during disturbances at the Temple Mount in the Old City in Jerusalem.
The Islamic leader was arrested in February 2007 after protests over planned improvement works at the site, which houses the al-Aqsa mosque and is holy to both Muslims and Jews. According to the court, Salah spat in the face of a policeman, saying: "You are all racists and murderers, you have no respect."
In his summing up, Judge Yizthak Shimmoni said: "It is my impression that the intention of the accused – and this is confirmed by his own statements – was to insult not just the policeman in question but everything he stood for: the law, its enforcement and the State of Israel itself, which in his eyes was the real 'criminal'. Freedom of expression merits special legislative protection. But this freedom has accepted limits and violent behaviour in defiance of the law, such as an attack on a representative of the law, does not come within its scope."RevengeIn addition to nine months' incarceration, the court sentenced Salah to six months' suspended sentence and ordered him to pay NIS 7,500 in damages to the policeman. Jamal Zahalka, an Israeli Arab MK for the Balad party, condemned the ruling. "The motive here is political revenge and the objective is political persecution," he said. "With this decision the court has made itself an instrument of the police and security services."The police are harassing the Arab public and Arab public life and are doing everything in their power to erode the legitimate right to protest. This is an attack not just on the Sheikh himself but against the entire Arab community that stands beside him in the struggle to prevent harm to the al-Aqsa mosque." Zahalka called for an emergency sitting of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, an independent body which represents Israel's Arabs population, to discuss the issue.The verdict drew praise from the Minister for Internal Security, Yitzhak Aharonovitch. "This is a message to anyone who shows contempt for the law and in particular to those who have attempted to harm law enforcement officers. No one has the right to threaten their safety," he said. "I will not let any element terrify or try to harm the law enforcement authorities and will stand as a human shield before them," said Aharonovitch.
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