An Islamic activist was arrested at Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport late on Sunday as she returned from Mecca to her home in Jaffa, a district of Tel Aviv.
The charges against Dr. Samah Rifi, a high-profile preacher mainly known among young Muslim women, have yet to be divulged by police.
Gazi Ashkar, the chairman of Jaffa’s Islamic Council, demanded her immediate release. He said that the police crossed a red line in its treatment of Jaffa’s Arab residents. Rifi’s relatives said that she was not allowed to see her lawyer.
Jaffa, a millennia-old Mediterranean city, became part of Tel Aviv in the 1950s. Some 20,000 of its 60,000 residents are Arab, and the rest are Jewish.
Despite its proximity to the Jewish-secular Tel Aviv (whose official name is Tel Aviv-Jaffa), Jaffa is a bastion of the northern wing of the Islamic Movement, which has recently been outlawed by the Israeli government on grounds of incitement to violence.
The organization has long since touted its “Save Al Aqsa” campaign, which garnered huge sums in donations for charity and educational activities.
Before the onset of the Syrian civil war, the northern wing raised money in Iran, leading to the arrest of its leader Sheikh Raed Salah and the confiscation of its funds. With the deepening of the Shi’ite-Sunni rift, it has focused its fundraising efforts in Qatar and Turkey.
A spokesperson for the Tel Aviv Police declined to comment on Rifi’s arrest.
Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, some 30 Israeli Arabs have been arrested for allegedly trying to join the Islamic State organization. The most publicized case was of an entire family from the city of Sakhnin, in the north of Israel, who traveled to Syria via Turkey.
Over the last few days, Israeli authorities have been working in tandem with relatives to facilitate the return of the family – a couple and their three children. They are expected to be arrested upon arrival.