Cablegate: Israeli Islamic Movement Gaining Influence

DE RUEHTV #2839/01 3531340
P 181340Z DEC 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) TELAVIV 2534, B) TELAVIV 1081, C) 03 TELAVIV 4397

1. (SBU) Summary: The official goal of the Islamic Movement in
Israel is to bring Muslims living in "Palestine of 1948" back to
Islam. The Movement has focused its efforts on three primary fronts
-- the social, the religious, and the political. While efforts on
the political front have been limited by divisions within the
Movement itself and by the entrenchment of clan-based politics in
Israel's Arab communities (as evidenced in the November 11 municipal
elections), the Movement has been somewhat more successful in
promoting its Islamic agenda on the social front. By providing its
own considerable social services to the underserviced Arab sector,
the Islamic Movement has begun to create socially self-sufficient
Arab communities within Israel. At the same time, the split between
the radical Northern Branch, whose leader regularly incites against
Zionism and the Israeli government, and the more moderate Southern
Branch, which generally values coexistence, continues to limit the
Movement's ambitions. END SUMMARY

Origins of the Movement

2. (SBU) The character, goals, and tactics of the Islamic Movement
in Israel have changed dramatically over the course of the last
thirty-seven years. Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish founded the Islamic
Movement of Israel in 1971 as an ideological offshoot of the
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Darwish also founded a separate
underground group, Usrat al-Jihad, in 1979. Throughout the 1970s,
the Movement gained notoriety due to its underground paramilitary
activities, according to Dr. Nohad Ali, an expert on the Islamic
Movement at Haifa University. Its goal was to destroy the Israeli
economy, and tactics included violent measures such as burning
Israeli fields. In 1980, Israeli police jailed several of the
Movement's leaders, including Sheikh Darwish. Following his release
from prison in 1984, Darwish instructed his followers to employ only
lawful activity with a focus on proselytizing, education, and the
development of health and welfare programs for Arab communities.

--------------------------------------------- -
Local Politics and the Radical-Moderate Divide
--------------------------------------------- -

3. (SBU) During the 1980s and 90s, leaders of the Movement faced a
crisis of identity and direction as they sought to define themselves
politically within the context of living within a Jewish state. When
Sheikh Darwish advocated the Islamic Movement's participation in the
1996 Knesset elections, Sheikh Ra'ed Salah disagreed, and the
Movement split into two factions -- the more moderate Southern
Branch headed by Darwish, with support primarily in the Negev and
parts of the Galilee, and the radical Northern Branch headed by
Salah, with support centered in the "Triangle" region bordering the
northern West Bank. The Islamic Movement as a whole, including both
branches, provides an umbrella over a network of non-governmental
organizations and affiliated mosques, and each looks to a different
"branch" depending on its political views. (Comment: Describing the
Movement as divided into northern and southern factions is somewhat
of a false dichotomy, but it does provide a useful short-cut when
discussing the Movement and its political division over whether to
cooperate with or disassociate itself from the institutions of the
State of Israel. End comment.)

4. (SBU) Though he states that he no longer participates in
politics, Sheikh Darwish remains the Southern Branch's spiritual
leader and is actively involved in both Islamic social outreach and,
increasingly, Jewish-Muslim coexistence efforts. Unlike the
Northern Branch, the Southern Branch has a clear and generally
transparent organizational structure, with a leader, deputy head,
and various committees ( The Southern Branch is
currently headed by Member of Knesset Ibrahim Sarsour, head of the
four-seat United Arab List in the Knesset, while the more loosely
organized Northern Branch remains under the leadership of Ra'ed

5. (SBU) While the Northern Branch participates in municipal
politics, it will not contest national elections and does not
officially recognize Israel's legitimacy as a state. To the extent
possible, it minimizes its interactions with the organs of national
government. In the November 11 municipal elections, the Northern
Branch held onto the mayoralty and city council in the Triangle's
largest town, Umm al-Fahm. Southern Branch-affiliated candidates won
or maintained significant representation on the city councils of at
least five Israeli Arab towns, plus the politically-important mixed
Muslim and Christian city of Nazareth. However, the Southern Branch
lost its 20-year grip on the symbolically important town of Kafr
Kassem, which was the birthplace of the movement.

6. (SBU) The combined results of the two branches' showing in the
November 11 municipal elections shows a stagnation or even slight
decline in the Islamic Movement's role in local politics for both
branches. As a whole, the Movement won fewer council seats and
fewer mayoralties this year than in Israel's last municipal

TEL AVIV 00002839 002 OF 003

elections in 2003. Muhannad Mustafa, an expert on Israeli Arab
politics at Haifa University, attributed both factions' political
difficulties to the rural nature of the Arab communities. He told
ConOff that in contrast to nearby places such as the West Bank, Gaza
and Egypt, where political Islam has developed deeper roots by
capitalizing on the stresses of urbanization, the Islamic Movement
in Israel has found it very difficult to gain a stable political
foothold in the face of the clan-based politics that still holds
sway among Israel's comparatively rural Arab citizens.

7. (SBU) In contrast to its limited success in local politics, the
Movement is rapidly taking control of the Arab Student Union, the
primary incubator of emerging Arab leaders in Israel. In June, the
Northern Branch contested the Arab Student Union elections at Tel
Aviv University for the first time. Running under the banner of the
IQRA International Education Foundation, candidates promised to
continue aiding members of the Arab sector in all areas of life.
According to Israeli Media, it won in a landslide. In April, the
Northern and Southern Branches ran together at Hebrew University
under the IQRA banner and won. A few months previous, the Northern
Branch ran at Haifa University and defeated the Hadash party, a
former communist party comprising Jews, Muslims and Christians,
which had previously dominated. IQRA chair Nasim Badarna credited
the win at Tel Aviv University to the Islamic Movement's social
programs, saying "we knew we'd be able to overpower everyone else,
thanks to our hard work years before the election in providing aid
to Arab students."

8. (SBU) The Islamic Movement remains divided over political
ideology. Over time, the Southern Branch has solidified its
reputation as the more pragmatic and moderate branch although it too
contests the legitimacy of the state. One of its members, MK Abbas
Zakoor, has been active in trying to mend the community wounds in
Akko following the riots between Jews and Arabs in October. By
contrast, the Northern Branch has continued to embrace its hardline
political positions and radical reputation. The 1999 Rosh Hashanah
bombings in Tiberias and Haifa were tied to members of the Northern
Branch, and on May 13, 2000, Sheikh Salah was arrested for
incitement and for providing human and financial aid to
terrorist-linked associations in the Palestinian territories. He
served time in prison from 2003 - 2005. Unlike Darwish, however,
Salah's time in prison did not have a moderating effect.

Northern Branch and the Al-Aqsa Mosque

9. (SBU) The Northern Branch continues to clash with Israeli
authorities. For example, in August 2008, Israeli police and
security forces raided the headquarters of Sheikh Salah's Al-Aqsa
Foundation for the Reconstruction of Islamic Holy Places in Umm
al-Fahm. The police confiscated documents, maps, money and
fundraising lists, claiming that the Foundation was working in
concert with HAMAS. Salah, who has no role with the Islamic Waqf in
Jerusalem and whose activities are often frowned upon by Waqf
officials, has for years used the Al-Aqsa Foundation as a platform
for denouncing Jewish Israelis for their alleged desecrations of the
Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque. In early 2007, he
called on Israeli Arabs to rise up and start a third intifada in
order to "rescue" Jerusalem from the Jewish state (an act for which
he is now facing incitement charges).

10. (SBU) Through various media sources including Al-Jazeera and
those owned by HAMAS, Salah has worked to spread the idea that the
Al-Aqsa Mosque is in danger. Two days before the raid on the Al-Aqsa
Foundation, Salah addressed followers gathered at the annual Al-Aqsa
festival: "I say to the Israeli occupation... after 40 years that
you are occupying the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and digging all sorts of
ditches and building synagogues under the mosque... I say to you
that your occupation will be removed from above Jerusalem and from
the Mosque." Ynet News in Israel also reported that Salah told the
crowd that Israelis drank alcohol in the mosque and engaged in
sexual activities on its grounds. Dr. Ali told ConOff that nearly
70,000 people attended the Al-Aqsa festival in 2008, and he watched
as women donated gold off their wrists into a growing pile, all
allegedly for the protection of the mosque. In a conversation with
Poloff, Northern Branch Spokesman Zahi Nagidat was adamant that the
Israelis were conspiring to destroy Al-Aqsa and replace it with a
rebuilt Jewish Temple. He also asserted that "there was no real
evidence of an historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem."

Promoting Islam through Social Services

11. (SBU) In contrast to its limited success on its divided
political front, both branches of the Islamic Movement have met with
considerable success on the social front. Both have worked,
sometimes together and sometimes separately, to provide a social
infrastructure outside the Israeli national system for the
under-serviced Arab sector. According to Mustafa, this
infrastructure consists of a wide network of kindergartens, clinics,

TEL AVIV 00002839 003 OF 003

ambulances, community centers, libraries, and lecture halls, all at
nominal or no cost. In addition, the Movement, including elements of
both branches, has established an independent soccer league of 38
teams, opened numerous book stores, and provided opportunities for
volunteer activity. Through its charities, the Movement provides
assistance to the poor and finances construction of homes demolished
by Israeli authorities in the unrecognized Bedouin communities as
well as those damaged by Jews during periods of inter-communal
violence, such as occurred in Akko in October. The Movement has
created numerous local and national non-profit organizations, some
of which provide social services and others which serve as
fund-raising organizations for Muslim causes. The Movement provides
several alternative education programs, including an Islamic college
whose student population is more than half female; funding of
medical training both in Israel and abroad; and various
adult-education courses. It sponsors two newspapers; schools and
centers for religious studies; and several religious festivals
throughout the year. Thus, apart from its lackluster political
status at the local or national level, the Movement is succeeding in
creating self-sufficient Islamic communities within the State of

12. (SBU) The Movement's promotion of a return to Islamic law and
traditions is closely tied to its success in providing social
services. Most of the social services are provided at community
centers that also include mosques. As people come to the community
centers to receive social services, they also are expected to hear
the messages of the Imam. As the religiously observant community
expands, more and more people participate in the religious
activities and festivals held at the community centers and their
mosques, and more and more people donate what money they are able to
the various charities run by the Islamic Movement.


© Scoop Media

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