Deutsche Muslim-Liga Bonn e.V Home/Startseite: DMLBonn
Informationen Archiv Links
Stellungnahmen Termine Spenden

Startseite/Home der DMLBonn e.V.
Aus dem Archiv, von der Pressestelle der DMLBonn e.V.

The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. July 2000, S. 96 - 98.


Palestinian Islamist, Mayor Shaikh Ra`id Salah

His name is Shaikh Ra`id Salah. When he was only 31 years old, he was elected mayor of the Arab municipality of Um El-Fahem, a town within Israel's pre-1967 borders that is home to 35,000 Arab Palestinians. Recently, Um El-Fahem has been the scene of repeated clashes between Arab residents and the Israeli government. The clashes came as a result of the Israeli announcement in 1998 of its decision to confiscate Arab-owned lands near Um El-Fahem for a large new Israel Defense Forces base to be constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The base was intended to serve as a primary training center for Golani Brigade infantry soldiers and to replace bases being shut down as a result of land withdrawals from the West Bank and Gaza.

In the past, the Israeli Government has confiscated lands on the pretext that they are to be used as military installations, only to turn them over to civilian authorities to build settlements reserved exclusively for Jews. As part of this procedure, when the lands were confiscated, they were designated as "closed military areas" with restrictions on entry that effectively prevented Palestinian farmers from cultivating their crops. News of the Um El-Fahem confiscations therefore sparked protests by Palestinians in September of 1998. Confrontations with Israel Defense Forces resulted in 600 injured from the Palestinian side. Attempting to punish the area for its staged protest, Israeli security forces further orchestrated an attack on the local high school of Um El-Fahem in which students and teachers were assaulted with clubs, tear gas and rubbercoated steel bullets: Close to 100 students suffered injuries as a result. Until today, library and classroom walls remain bullet-riddled. Peace and human rights activists, Jewish and Arab alike, joined residents of the town in staging protest condemning the attacks, chanting "today we are all Um El-Fahem."

Under the administration of the previous Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, the project was put on hold. Now, however, plans to construct the base have been publicly endorsed by the current government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, sparking yet more clashes between Israeli forces and local Palestinian residents. The most recent clashes took place last March at a peaceful demonstration during the annual observance of Land Day. Like Um El-Fahem, other areas such as Sakhneen and Um El-Sahala are threatened by Israeli plans for military installations. Local resistance to the illegal confiscations have resulted in further clashes with Israeli security forces.

Shaikh Salah, who has witnessed these clashes over the years, is on a U.S. tour speaking to audiences about the Palestinian Arabs living within Israel's "Green Line" borders of June 4, 1967. While in Washington, DC, he was sponsored by the newly established American Muslims for Jerusalem. In an interview with the Washington Report, Shaikh Salah shared his views on Um El-Fahem, the current peace process, and its effects on the Arab Palestinian population. Shaikh Salah identified Israel's Palestinian community as a minority that first and foremost has a legitimate right to remain on its land. Nevertheless, he said, the Israeli government continues to practice deliberate, calculated discrimination toward Palestinian right to exist, which in turn justifies egregious violations of Palestinian rights.

Palestinians continue to fear that at any moment the Israeli government may decide to confiscate what remains of their land. Already, Palestinians who live within Israel and represent 20 percent of the total population have been reduced to ownership on only 3 percent of the total land, Shaikh Salah said. As a result, abrupt land confiscations continuously undermine any sense of normalcy among the citizens of these villages. Moreover, Shaikh Salah added, "Our religious shrines are still confiscated even though they represent less than .06 percent of total land." American audiences gasp in disbelief when he tells them that dozens of Arab mosques and churches are confiscated and later used for commercial purposes to serve as bars, restaurants, and hotels in complete disregard of their religious sanctity. In addition, he said, "There are 300,000 Palestinians who see their usurped land owned and inhabited by foreign settlers while the Palestinians are prohibited from visiting, let alone owning it." There are more than 70 other Palestinian villages that face the same detrimental issues threatening Um El-Fahem.

Aside from confiscations of Palestinian lands, the Jewish State carries out religious persecution and ethnic cleansing of its Palestinian minority through policies deliberately aimed at undermining any efforts to enable Palestinian areas to be more developed or self-sufficient. "Repeatedly, our areas are excluded from any plans to encourage industrial, commercial, or general economic development," Shaikh Salah said. As a result, he continued, "our areas have than 20 percent unemployment." Moreover, Palestinians are prevented from building institutions of higher learning in their areas, and some of their existing institutions, such as the college of Dawa and Islamic Sciences in Um El-Fahem, have not been recognized by the Israeli government.

Worst of all, said Shaikh Salah, "If we resist any of the government's illegal and unjust policies, even through peaceful demonstrations, we run the risk of encountering brutal Israeli forces, which are trained to use excessive force, specially when dealing with Palestinians." Repeated confrontations with Israeli government forces have resulted in hundreds of casualties and political prisoners. In addition, systematic intimidation, harassment, and physical attacks on Palestinian leaders continue. These terror campaigns have targeted heads of local municipalities, religious leaders, and Arab members of the Israeli Knesset. Palestinians are concerned that these life-threatening actions by the Israelis are driving Palestinians to emigrate in search of a better life outside their native land. "Do you think that a Palestinian would remain if he or she continues to live with no land, no home, no job, and no future?" Shaikh Salah asked.

With respect to Middle East peace, he argued that the Palestinian track should be the real measure of the successes or failures of the Middle East peace process. And, so far, it has failed to address the most critical issues for Palestinians. "We know today that there are more than five million Palestinian refugees whose future is still unknown," he pointed out. "The status of Jerusalem has been intentionally excluded from negotiations, which renders the future of the Al-Aqsa Mosque ambiguous and subject to questioning. " Moreover, he argued, from the Oslo talks to the Wye River Agreement, the peace process has led to further fragmentation of Palestinians geographically and politically. More importantly, he said, "This 'peace' has created a fragile Palestinian state devoid of the most basic characteristics of a legitimate state: independence, autonomy, representative democracy, etc."

There are other critical issues which Shaikh Salah argues are either conveniently forgotten or purposely omitted from negotiations. For example, political prisoners from Gaza and the West Bank who remain captive in Israeli prisons are yet to be discussed. Some of these prisoners go back the 1948 war, and their destiny remains subject to the uncertain outcome of the negotiations. Moreover, Shaikh Salah added, the peace process has neither discussed nor alluded to the future of the Palestinian minority that resides within Israel, whose number has reached 1.2 million.

Shaikh Salah said the Palestinian Authority has failed miserably in the only way it could have been of help, namely through influencing negotiations in favor of Palestinian interests. The Palestinian negotiators have been forced to exclude the topics of Palestinian political prisoners, Jerusalem, and refugees from the current negotiations. which practically eliminates the possibility of coexistence.

Moreover, Shaikh Salah warned that despite the apparent withdrawal of Israeli forces from small areas in Gaza and the West Bank, it is clear from official statements that military concentrations involved may be relocated to Arab-owned lands within Israel's Green Line borders. He said that in addition to the government's well publicized plans to confiscate 42,000 dunams of Arab-owned farmland near Um El-Fahem to create a military area, more lands are to be confiscated from the Palestinian village of Sakhneen. The Israeli government is already finalizing such plans. In addition, the Israeli government has made public statements about the possibility of transferring militiamen from the Israeli-funded "South Lebanese Army," who fled southern Lebanon in May, to Palestinian areas. The Israeli government has formed a committee to oversee the transfer of these militiamen and their families. Shaikh Salah believes this effort is intended to undermine the very social fabric of minority Palestinian communities.

"It is clear that we, the Arabs of 1948, are now entering a new violent era," Shaikh Salah said. "Excessive force, as never witnessed before, is being used on us. I see this as a result of the integration into our areas of military elements that were used against our people in the West Bank, Gaza, and southern Lebanon." He added that such intense violence has not been witnessed previously by the Palestinian community, not even during the intifada times. He asserted that mainstream Israeli society also is witnessing an unprecedented wave of violence, which he attributed mainly to the reintegration of Israeli soldiers back into Israeli civilian society, especially after the withdrawal of Israeli forces from various occupied areas. "Even the Jewish State can no longer deny that there is a sharp increase in its rates of domestic violence, homicide, and violent crimes in general," he noted.

"We hope that Palestinians learn from the various painful experiences they have endured since 1948," he said. "One such lesson is that it is imperative that we put emphasis on institutions, as opposed to leaders. Leaders come and go, but our institutions and principles should not be compromised." He emphasized that Palestinians should be tolerant of all political opinions "regardless of political orientations and views."

With respect to intercommunal relations, Shaikh Salah said that Palestinians have united to create the Committee of Local Arab Municipalities, which includes Palestinians who belong to various faiths and political camps. "As an Islamist, I feel it's critically important to deepen the bonds between Palestinians which have been weakened in the past few years," he said. Under his leadership, Um El-Fahem annually hosts an event, named "Al-Aqsa Is in Danger," in which Christian and Muslim religious leaders come together to discuss the continuing threats posed by the Israeli government on Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The most recent gathering this year attracted 70,000 participants.

Finally, Shaikh Salah concluded that "the issue of land is a life or death matter to us. More Palestinians are holding on to their lands. We are able and prepared to resist anyone who tries to take them away. It is the land on which we were born, will continue to live, and will die."

Following mounting protest by human rights organizations regarding the conduct of Israeli security forces at Um El-Fahem, and especially in light of the Knesset's decision in December of 1998 not to establish an independent committee to investigate the events, Israeli Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein ordered an investigation of the incident. On January 2000, he supported the internal review's decision to clear the police of all responsibility for the clashes. Further, he recommended that all complaints filed against individual officers be dropped "due to the excessive difficulty of identifying particular individuals." Recently, however, he referred the case back to the Internal Investigation Department, which decided to reopen the investigation.

Asma Yousef

Deutsche Muslim-Liga Bonn e.V. - 1422 / 2001