Israeli leader condemns Palestinian Muslim cleric

January 22, 2012 - 12:05 PM
Mideast Israel Palestinians

FILE- In this Sept. 19, 2006, file photo, the Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein, speaks during a media conference in the West Bank town of Ramallah. Mufti Hussein, the Palestinians' top Muslim cleric, is facing harsh Israeli criticism for quoting a religious text that includes passages about killing Jews. Hussein said his remarks at a rally for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement last week were taken out of context and that he didn't incite people to kill Jews.(AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen, File)

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Palestinians' top Muslim cleric faced sharp Israeli criticism Sunday for a speech in which he quoted a religious text that includes passages about killing Jews in an end-of-days struggle.

Mufti Mohammed Hussein's comments came at a political gathering of supporters of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He said his remarks were taken out of context and that he didn't incite people to kill Jews. But by speaking at the venue, Hussein appeared to be linking the battle to the conflict with Israel.

"The hour of resurrection will not come until you fight the Jews," Hussein told the gathering, citing a hadith, or saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. "The Jews will hide behind stones and trees. But the trees and the stones will call: oh Muslim, oh servant of God, there is a Jew hiding behind me so come and kill him."

In a separate development, Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said he hoped to reach a compromise with settlers that would stave off a looming deadline to evacuate the largest unauthorized settlement outpost in the West Bank.

The Supreme Court, ruling that Migron was built on private Palestinian land, has ordered the outpost to be uprooted by March 31. With residents vowing to defy the evacuation, Netanyahu suggested they be moved to nearby land that is not privately owned.

An Israeli official said the proposal, which would need Supreme Court approval, aims to avert a violent standoff with the settlers. But Peace Now, an anti-settlement watchdog group, said the proposal was merely a stalling tactic.

A spokesman for the residents, Itai Chemo, rejected the proposal. "Relocation is not an answer to these attacks," he said. Instead, he called for a "brave dialogue" with the government to find a "proper solution."

The Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal government plans, said the settlement would be uprooted by March 31 if the residents do not agree to move.

The mufti delivered his three-minute speech on Jan. 7 in an Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem during celebrations of the 47th anniversary of the Palestinian movement Fatah, said Itamar Marcus of Palestine Media Watch, an Israeli watchdog group that tracks incitement.

Marcus' group posted excerpts of the speech on YouTube last week. The comments drew angry reactions from Israelis on Sunday.

"We're talking about a heinous offense that all nations of the world must condemn," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement sent to reporters by text message. He asked the Israeli attorney general to launch an investigation.

It is unclear what authority Israel would have since Hussein is appointed to his position by the Palestinian president. There was no immediate comment from Abbas' office.

Hussein, who is based in Jerusalem, said his comments were taken out of context.

"I was speaking about the final signs of the day of resurrection," Hussein said. "I did not incite, and I did not call for killing. We are not, at present, at the end of days."

The Quran, Islam's holy book, offers contradictory attitudes toward Jews and Christians. There are texts that enshrine tolerance and respect for other faiths, while others are spiked with hatred and incitement.

Some extremist rabbis also have found passages in Jewish texts that they believe justifies violence against the Palestinians.

Tensions between Israelis and the Palestinians have been fueled by a three-year breakdown in peace efforts. Talks broke down in late 2008 and have remained frozen over the issue of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.

The Palestinians say there is no point in negotiating as long as Israel continues to build homes for its citizens on occupied land. Israel says the future of settlements is a matter for negotiations.

Some 500,000 Israeli settlers now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and some communities deep in the West Bank are considered especially hard line.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed low-level contacts early this month with the aim of finding a formula for restarting formal negotiations. The Palestinians continue to insist that Israel freeze all settlement construction. Sunday's proposal to delay the evacuation of Migron is likely to harden Palestinian skepticism toward Netanyahu.

___

Diaa Hadid can be reached on twitter at http://twitter.com/diaahadid