In a speech delivered following his release from prison on Tuesday, Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement in Israel’s northern branch, said he had turned down an offer to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“I told them I won’t negotiate for the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he declared. “The Al-Aqsa will not be subject to negotiations.”
On Tuesday morning, the Israeli authorities released Salah from prison, where he had been held since May of last year for “inciting violence”.
Salah’s Islamic Movement is known for its outspoken opposition to Israel’s decades-long occupation and for championing Palestinian rights at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
While he was in prison, Salah asserted, Israeli intelligence officers had offered to arrange a meeting between him and Netanyahu.
“Last Thursday [before his release], I was taken to meet with Israeli intelligence officers,” Salah recalled.
“They asked me why I continued to insist that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was in danger,” he said. “I told them I still believed the mosque is under threat.”
He went on to say that on Monday, a day before his release, the Israeli authorities had told him that he had been banned from traveling abroad and from entering Jerusalem.
“I told them, ‘You can’t destroy our will and our principles; we will maintain our Islamic, pan-Arab and Palestinian positions until we meet God Almighty,” he said.
Salah’s Islamic Movement has come under scrutiny in recent years due to its vocal opposition to increasingly frequent visits by hardline Jewish activists to the Al-Aqsa complex, which is revered by both Muslims and Jews.
Salah was born in 1958 in the city of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel. He later studied Islamic Law at Hebron University in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
He served as mayor of Umm al-Fahm for three consecutive terms from 1987 to 2001 and has led the Islamic Movement’s northern branch since 1996.