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Moshe Yegar on Islamic Radicalism and Political Violence. The Templers of Islam and Sheikh Ra’id Salah, by Raphael Israeli

Filed under: Peace Process
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review 20:3-4 (Fall 2008)


Supporters of Islamic Terrorism among the Israeli Arabs

Islamic Radicalism and Political Violence. The Templers of Islam and Sheikh Ra’id Salah, by Raphael Israeli, Vallentine Mitchell, 2008, 175 pp.

Reviewed by Moshe Yegar, Translated from Hebrew by Shammai S. Fishman


Professor Raphael Israeli is a well-known expert on Islamic matters. For decades, he has devoted himself to research on Islamic countries. A prolific scholar, he has published twenty-five books and over one hundred articles. Israeli’s interests cover a wide variety of topics. They range from the Egypt of Anwar Sadat to the different kinds of Palestinian terrorist organizations, Islam in China and in Asia, and, recently, the spread of Islam in Europe. His mastery of Arabic and Chinese, as well as his knowledge of the primary sources, ranging from the Quran and Hadith (tradition), has extended his academic reach.

Of his long list of publications, two examples confirm his reputation as a leading specialist in Islamic affairs. Noteworthy are his book Islam in China (2002) and the PLO in Lebanon. Selected Documents (1983), an anthology of PLO documents which fell into Israel’s hands during the Lebanon war of 1982. In a pioneering effort, Israeli translated, edited, and annotated these documents.

His studies on Islamic terrorism, and in particular what is known as self-sacrifice (or terrorist suicide) prompted  Israeli to coin the term “Islamikaze,” a term for Muslim terrorists combining Islam and the Japanese Kamikaze of the Second World War to designate these so-called suicide- bombers. This is the weapon used in the Jihad against the West, Christianity, Israel, and even among warring Islamic factions. Israeli argues that the term reflects the common culture in the world of militant Islam. His book on the topic, Islamikaze: Manifestations of Islamic Martyrology, was published in London in 2003.  Israeli is thus well-qualified to research another terrorist organization fighting Israel, Hamas, and one of the branches which grew out of Israeli Arab extremist circles, the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement headed by Sheikh Ra’id Salah, the topic of the book under review.

In 2004 Sheikh Ra’id Salah was arrested and charged with transferring money to Hamas. The Haifa District Attorney asked  Israeli to draft an expert opinion on the Islamic Movement in Israel and Sheikh Ra’id Salah. Thus, he became deeply involved in the trial. He spent two years in trial proceedings, studied large numbers of documents, testified under oath, and was cross-examined for several days by Ra’id Salah’s lawyers. A major outcome of  Israeli’s public service was this important book, which presents an account of this trial and explains the recent changes which have occurred in the Islamic world. In particular, he shows that the problem of the intensification of Islamic fundamentalism and radicalism among the Arab-Islamic minority in Israel represents one manifestation of a larger process which is gradually spreading to many parts of  the Muslim world and poses a danger to world peace, not only to Israel. 

Islamic Radicalism and Political Violence has six chapters and a detailed glossary of terms which the reader is advised to consult prior to reading the book. Radical Islamic movements all over the world have theological-Islamic common denominators and similar historical origins. To place the issue of the Islamic Movement in Israel in a general Muslim context, Israeli devotes the first chapter of the book to an analysis of the key characteristics of Islam in our time. He explores the reasons for the Muslim world’s deep feelings of inferiority toward the West, particularly the United States and Western Europe, and the roots of its hatred for the Jews and Israel. He pinpoints the psychology of eternal victimhood which is typical of Muslims and Arabs and describes Arab-Muslim anti-Semitism which goes so far as to include Holocaust denial, accusations against Jews of poisoning Arab children, and similar forms of  libel in Arab and Islamic countries that may shock the reader.

The author also describes the growth of the Muslim communities in Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia and the grave problems that this remarkable development poses to the majority population groups of their respective countries. He argues that Israel has had to deal with the same problem because twenty percent of the population is Arab (1.3 million out of 7 million), of which eighty percent are Muslims (the remainder are Christians and Druze). Such radical and fundamentalist trends also exercise an influence on certain groups of Israeli Arabs under the leadership of the extremist, Sheikh Ra’id Salah.

Although there are considerable numbers of Arab Israeli citizens who are fully integrated into Israeli life, there is clearly a residue of hostility to the majority and an opposition to the state in which they are nominally citizens. In recent decades, Islamic radicalization has increased hand in hand with the rise of Palestinian nationalism. Israeli explains this thoroughly when he analyzes the four circles of identity of the Arab minority, who are at once Israeli, Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim. These circles lead to contradictions between Arab identity, the Islamic religion, and loyalty to the Jewish state. Along with their advancement in Israel, the Israeli Arabs have developed a culture of incessant complaints, while at the same time taking advantage of all the opportunities open to them under the liberal and democratic Israeli government, which has no parallel in any Arab state. Various liberal circles in Israel, and notably the so-called Peace Camp, try to cover up and obfuscate the differences between the Arabs and the State (of which they are citizens). However, this has been unsuccessful, since there is no shortage of evidence that many Arab citizens in Israel side with its enemies. Unlike some of his more timid academic colleagues, Israeli does not conceal this information.

The third chapter of the book deals with the Islamic Movement in Israel, its ideology and organizational methods. The author reports that with the rise of radicalism and fundamentalism internationally, awareness of Islamic solidarity and belonging to the great Islamic world (Umma) of 1.3 billion people has recently intensified. The ideology of the Islamic Movement grew out of the extreme religious world view of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the various Jihadi terrorist organizations which branched from it, particularly Hamas which now has a territorial base in the Gaza Strip. These elements provide the religious-legal basis for acts of terror and violence against infidels in general and specifically against Jews.

Israeli describes Sheikh Ra’id Salah, the most radical Islamic Israeli Arab leader since the late 1970s, and his rise to power. In 1989, under his leadership, the Islamic Movement became the main political power among the Arabs in Israel. One of the consequences of this process was a souring in relations between Muslim and Christian Arabs in Israel since the intolerance of the radical Muslims and their hatred was directed not only against Jews but also against Christians.

The Islamic Movement of Sheikh Ra’id Salah has become a movement supporting Hamas, as described in Chapter Four. There is no doubt the Sheikh has become an adversary of the State of Israel. Studying the history of the activities of Sheikh Ra’id Salah and the growth of his movement suggests strong similarities with the Mufti of Jerusalem Hajj Amin al-Huseini (1895-1974). His ideology of hatred of Jews and Zionism is similar to that of Sheikh Ra’id Salah, including the clever use of slogans to “rescue” the al-Aqsa mosque. For a long time, the British Mandate rule adopted a policy of appeasement but finally realized that there was no other way but open war against al-Huseini. The government of Israel, which also follows a policy of appeasement toward Sheikh Ra’id Salah, would benefit from studying the precedent of the Grand Mufti.

It is a mistake to treat the Islamic Movement as a local movement, impervious to influences from other Arab countries. Such an approach implies looking in the other direction. An illusion fostered by the Israeli Peace Camp maintains that a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict can be reached if it can be detached from the wider context of the Islamic world. Indeed, outside influences reinforce the anti-Israel feelings of the Arabs in Israel and their misgivings about the State.

The fifth chapter deals with the trial of Ra’id Salah and some of his associates (2003-2005). They were accused of ties with Hamas, abetting terrorism and other illegal activities. The author reports with great frankness that the prosecution and the judges conducted the trial carefully but with anxiety, probably out of fear of Arab and Islamic reactions. The role of Israeli during the course of the trial was to prove the ideological link between the Islamic Movement of Sheikh Ra’id Salah and the terrorist movement Hamas.

The sixth chapter presents the main points of Israeli’s testimony. His testimony is composed of a learned and well-documented presentation of the Arab and Islamic sources showing the incitement activities of Sheikh Ra’id Salah. Israeli drew upon an abundance of legal documents and primary sources including the two newspapers of the Islamic Movement which he read in the original. The author describes the unruly behavior at the courthouse of the large Arab crowd, supporters of the defendants, who regularly filled the courtroom and disturbed the trial with barely any intervention on the part of the judges. What is more surprising is the author’s opinion that in light of the solid incriminating evidence, the defendants would doubtlessly have been convicted and punished according to law. However, at a certain point their lawyers opted for a plea bargain with the prosecution in order to halt the trial and thus avoid sentencing.

Israeli reviews the possible reasons why the prosecution and the defense agreed to the plea bargain, but the reader can easily reach the conclusion that this step was unnecessary. The precedent which this plea bargain established does not augur well for Israel. Following his release, Sheikh Ra’id Salah came home as the victor in the battle he waged against the Israeli law enforcement authorities. He was quick to declare in media interviews that he would continue his activities, which he is in fact doing. The author clearly states that the court proceedings and the plea bargain represented an act of appeasement and weakness. He warns the Israeli government of the adverse effects of continuing its “soft touch” policy and ignoring subversive and illegal activities.

Finally, it is impossible to avoid the embarrassing question as to whether there is any other country in the world with a functioning legal system, as Israel claims to possess, that would permit a supporter of terror to go free rather than have him jailed or deported. It is incomprehensible that Israel showed such weakness in dealing with a severe internal danger. There is no political wisdom in such conduct. It is simply a sign of fear.

The disasters of recent history have demonstrated that appeasement is unwise. Concessions will not calm the Islamic extremists but rather encourage them to be subversive. This applies not only to Israel but elsewhere.

Israeli’s warning is stated clearly in the final chapter. All those who have baseless delusions of peace must read this chapter carefully and seriously. The last sentence of this important book simply reads: “This is the last moment for decisions.”  Indeed, there is a real danger that Israel could lose control over the public life of its Muslim citizens, and if this happens, the results could be devastating.

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Dr. MOSHE YEGAR served, among other positions, as consul-general in New York (1985-1988), ambassador in Stockholm (1988-1990), and ambassador in Prague (1993-1995).