Palestine is Still the Issue: Why Britain should thank Sheikh Raed Salah

My fortnightly column in Ceasefire Magazine.

By Asa Winstanley

Sheikh Raed Salah is a Palestinian activist and religious leader famous in the Arab world for leading non-violent demonstrations against Israeli abuses and discrimination in Jerusalem. As leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, he politically represents a significant proportion of the 1948 Palestinians – i.e. the 1.5 million Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship.

Despite numerous attacks on Salah by the Israeli state, including political arrests on trumped-up charges and even – he alleges – an assassination attempt, the Islamic Movement has never been proscribed in Israel since it is a purely political movement. Salah refuses on principle to take part in the Israeli parliament (the Knesset) but one faction of his movement does (usually referred to as the “southern branch” of the Islamic movement).

But you would not have known any of this from the hysterical reaction from the British press when he entered the country for a speaking tour last month. He has been demonised by most of the British press – led as usual by the Daily Mail in their never-ending quest for an Islamic immigrant bogeyman. They probably wish he had a hooked hand or an eye patch, but I guess the beard was enough for them.

Salah was arrested on the personal order of Home Secretary Theresa May, despite entering the country legally, with no problems at Heathrow.

Although Zionist bloggers such as Michael Weiss (of the Henry Jackson Society and the pro-Israel propaganda outfit “Just Journalism” – which was apparently named with a straight face) accused Salah of anti-Semitism, his accusations rested on Israeli sources such as discredited translations group MEMRI which was founded by Colonel Yigal Carmon, formerly a high-ranking member of Israeli intelligence. MEMRI refuses as a point of policy to translate from the Hebrew press, preferring instead to select clips that make Arabs and Muslims look bad.

Predictably enough considering the source of the anti-Semitism accusations were Israeli, most of the British press repeated them uncritically and seemingly without checks. Few even bothered to report that Salah denied having made the anti-Semitic statements attributed to him. Because who cares what Muslims say about themselves? Apparently.

But this week a High Court judge released Salah on bail. Not only did Mr Justice Stadlen comment that Salah had entered the country legally, since the Home Secretary’s told no one about her exclusion order until after Salah’s entry (although she now claims she signed it two days prior,) but the Home Office’s barrister admitted as much in court.

What I seemed to be witnessing in court while reporting on the case for Electronic Intifada was the government’s case falling apart. Their list of “unacceptable behaviour” seemed to be either based on anti-Semitic statements uncharacteristic of Salah (statements he strongly denied having made) or farcically lifted from half-hearted Israeli press releases. Indeed: I couldn’t help but suspect that Israel had encouraged the Home Secretary to arrest Salah, and provided material for the list, so flimsy were their “accusations” against him.

For example, they “accused” Salah of being linked to Turkish charity IHH. IHH is a totally legitimate Turkish aid group but it started to be attacked by a barrage of unfounded Zionist smear campaigns after it participated in the first Freedom Flotilla to Gaza last year. Another example of alleged “unacceptable behaviour” strong enough to bar Salah from the country which the government cited was an interview that the Middle East Monitor conducted with Salah in June in which he discussed the Palestinian right of return and the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

Unsurprisingly (or perhaps surprisingly for those of us who have no faith in the British justice system) the judge found this all unconvincing. He didn’t make a judgement either way on whether or not Salah had actually said the anti-Semitic statements which he denies, since that is for the full judicial review set to take place in September. But he did say he was satisfied Salah’s legal team has a good case.

Despite being unjustly imprisoned for three weeks, despite being wrongly accused of entering the country illegally, and despite being demonised by the British press, Salah is staying in the country to clear his name. He is now free on bail. There is nothing stopping him from returning to Palestine, except for principles. Instead he has chosen to stay in the country under bail restrictions that prevent him from speaking to the public, force him to wear an electric tag, observe a night time curfew and report daily to immigration authorities.

If in the end he manages to clear his name it will be a blow to the government’s claim to a right of political detention. Salah will have done us all a favour by landing a blow to both draconian government measures and media scare-mongering.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

 

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