Islamic World News
Islamic Movement gathers steam in Israel
UMM AL-FAHM, Israel (JTA) -- It's time for noon prayers in this Israeli Arab city, and a jumble of sneakers piles up outside the doors of a mosque on the top floor of a private high school for the sciences.
Inside, the boys, led in prayer by a math teacher, stand in two rows on a soft green-and-beige carpet and then kneel in unison. The $5.8 million tab to construct the high school, considered one of the top Arab schools in Israel with its state-of-the art physics and chemistry labs, was picked up by the Islamic Movement.
Such support -- helping fund community needs not being met by the Israeli government -- is one way the movement is gaining power and influence among Israel's 1.2 million Arabs.
"This vacuum has opened the door for the Islamic Movement to get in and provide alternative services," said Yousef Jabareen, a resident of Umm al-Fahm and director of Dirasat, a nonprofit that advocates for socioeconomic and political equality for Israel's Arab citizens.
The influence of the movement -- particularly its northern branch, which preaches adherence to a devout form of Islam and a code of social isolation from Israel at large -- can be seen in the shift toward increased religious observance among some of Israel's Arab citizens, the majority of whom are Muslim.
Critics say the movement's more extreme elements preach a form of nationalism that is actively anti-Israeli and is radicalizing Israel's Arab citizens. Its social service tactics have been compared to the work of Hamas, which similarly built a base of support among ordinary Palestinians by providing social services not offered by the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority.
With its power base in Umm al-Fahm, one of Israel's largest Arab towns, the Islamic Movement in Israel is drawing support with the message that pride in Islamic roots can overcome the feelings of second-class citizenship to which Arab citizens often feel relegated in the Jewish state.
The movement is divided into two branches: the more radical northern branch, which eschews the Israeli political process and calls on followers to abstain from voting in national Israeli elections, and the more moderate southern branch, which is represented in Israel's Knesset.