An Islamic Movement inside the Israeli State: secularising religious resistance?

By Craig Larkin
Submitted to Session P4413 (Religion and Secularism in Palestine and Israel, 2016 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Arab-Israeli Conflict;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper explores the growth and significance of the Islamist Movement inside Israel in attracting and mobilizing Arab Israeli religious sentiment and popular support. Despite scant scholarship (Rekhess 1996; Aburaiya, 2004; Rosmer 2012; Larkin and Dumper, 2012; Ghanem & Mustafa (2014 2014), this socio-political movement is helping to forge a new form of Palestinian Islamic resistance — one that crosses political and territorial divides and seeks to challenge Israel both within and outside of its political system. Dynamic and multifaceted, the movement has been subject to internal splits – a Northern and Southern branch was formed in 1996 - and ongoing Israeli state suppression, with the banning of the Northern branch as a ’terrorist organisation’ in 2015. Based on ethnographic research (2014-2016) with officials, community leaders and representatives of the movements relevant education programmes, religious heritage organization (al-Aqsa Association) and civil society charities, this paper offers an empirically rich critique of the Islamist movement, examining its tensions and leadership struggles, and how they have extended their influence from their traditional support base in the North (‘the Arab Triangle’) to the Southern Negev and Jerusalem. This paper argues that the Islamist movement is increasingly shaping and influencing contemporary ‘Arab Israeli’ identity and is providing resistance strategies that blur secular and religious binaries.
Relying on research based on three specific sites – Umm al-Fahm, Jerusalem and the Naqab (Beer Sheva) the paper examines how the Islamist movement utilises urban context, community grievances and everyday experiences. Umm al-Fahm, close to Nazareth, remains the stronghold of the Movement's Northern branch led by Sheikh Ra'id Salah, who rejects involvement in Israeli parliamentary elections and has sought to create an ‘Islamic community’ through parallel local power structures. In Jerusalem, the Islamic Movement are increasingly visible through heritage campaigns ('al-Aqsa is in Danger') and charitable committees supporting education, legal aid against house evictions and protection of the Haram al-Sharif (Mourabitat and Mourabitoun). In the Naqab, the Islamic movement have grown in municipal strength, providing Islamic education and legal support for the Arab Bedouin community, from which its Southern branch leader, Sheikh Hamad Abu Daabis now hails. These three contexts provide unique lenses to assess the evolution of the Islamist movement inside Israel and its diverging resistance strategies.