Sheikh Ekrima Sabri is released from Israeli interrogation, December 17, 2023.


Courtesy of Saeed Qaq/Anadolu via Getty Images

Feature Story

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, “Guardian of the Pulpit” of al-Aqsa Mosque, Targeted by Extremist Israeli Groups

Israeli authorities are set to charge Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, the renowned Palestinian preacher of the al-Aqsa Mosque and head of the Supreme Islamic Committee in Jerusalem, with “incitement to terrorism.”1

The September 2023 motion filed against the sheikh by LAVI, an extremist Israeli organization, was not the first of its kind. It is part of a series of prosecutions against him, the first of which dates back to 1973.

LAVI filed its September motion against the legal advisor of the Israeli government, the Ministry of Justice, and the police, to compel the Israeli Public Prosecutor’s office to file charges against the 85-year-old sheikh, who is the former Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, for alleged incitement of violence. LAVI claimed that he was involved in terrorist activities and communicating with a foreign agent. At that time, the prosecutor’s office requested a delay in responding to the motion, but last week, the Israeli news site Haredim 10 reported that the indictment will be presented in the upcoming days against the “highest spiritual authority for the Arabs of East Jerusalem.”2

LAVI identifies itself as an organization fighting for the rights of citizens and for good governance in Israel, based on a Zionist vision. On its website, the organization proclaims that it is performing its duties by conducting special investigations, as well as utilizing media and legal means to implement the Zionist vision within Israel’s governance systems.3

In response to the motion passing, lawyers from the organization commented: “We welcome the filing of charges, and we promise to closely monitor his trial until all procedures against him are exhausted,” as reported on Haredim 10.

In addition to this motion, Sheikh Sabri has been facing systematic incitement campaigns against him for many years. The intensity of these campaigns increased after October 7, 2023, as extremist voices calling for his assassination grew louder. This prompted the Supreme Islamic Committee in Jerusalem to issue the following statement on October 9: “We have received information about threats and incitement by settlers to assassinate and eliminate the sheikh.”4

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri released from al-Moskobiyya detention center in Jerusalem, December 17, 2023

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri is released from the notorious al-Moskobiyya detention center in West Jerusalem on December 17, 2023. Israeli occupation forces summoned the 85-year-old sheikh for interrogation in connection to his sermons at the al-Aqsa Mosque.


Photo by Saeed Qaq/Anadolu via Getty Images

The committee held the Israeli government fully responsible for any harm that may befall the sheikh, urging Arab and Muslim countries to immediately intervene against this incitement campaign. During this period, Sheikh Sabri’s image was shared on an inflammatory Telegram channel created by Israeli extremists called “Nazi Hunters,” along with a post that revealed the location of his residence, marking him as a target for potential assassination.5

Sheikh Sabri has been facing systematic incitement campaigns against him for many years.

Before and after this campaign, extremist groups continued to exert pressure on the Israeli government to pursue the sheikh and imprison him. They consistently published his image on their websites, associating him with dozens of Palestinian figures whom they claim incite violence against them and “encourage the killing of Jews.”

Knesset members and others in the Israeli government have repeatedly participated in these campaigns against the sheikh, accusing him of inciting violence, especially after visiting the families of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces (shuhada) and verbally supporting them. They demanded that he be arrested, banned from delivering sermons, and “made to pay the price.”

In December of last year, the assault on Sheikh Sabri escalated as Israeli forces stormed the residential building in the Sawaneh neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where he resides. The building was built many years ago and houses more than 100 Palestinians in 18 residential apartments. Authorities notified residents that they need to evacuate the building under the pretext that it was subject to a demolition order for being built without the necessary permits from the Jerusalem municipality.6

While the building received a demolition order in 2003, at which time residents were made to pay fines to protect their homes from demolition, the case was raised again recently as a political move, according to sources close to the sheikh, who has avoided interviews since the outbreak of the war.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri leads prayer in Sheikh Jarrah, February 2022.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri leads a Friday prayer in the streets of Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem, on February 18, 2022. A large number of Palestinians attended the sermon of the beloved preacher.


Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu via Getty Images

The sheikh keenly documents in detail the long history of retaliation against him in his book Stations from My Life and Journeys, published (in Arabic) in 2021. In it, Sheikh Sabri narrates chapters of pain and hope, as well as his determination to continue his path despite difficulties and risks.

Ekrima Sa‘id Sabri was born in Qalqilya on November 15, 1938, into an educated and religious family. He received his early education in Nablus, and in 1963, he obtained a bachelor’s degree from the Faculty of Sharia at the University of Baghdad. In 1989, he earned a master’s degree in jurisprudence and legislation, in addition to a certificate in practicing legal advocacy in 1990. He subsequently obtained a PhD in general jurisprudence from al-Azhar University in Egypt in 2001.

Sheikh Sabri held various academic positions, and shortly after the death of his father in 1973, the position of preacher of the al-Aqsa Mosque was left vacant. He applied for the position and was accepted, but he requested from the Department of Islamic Endowments in Jerusalem not to receive any financial compensation for the sermons he delivers in the mosque.

Sheikh Sabri dedicated a chapter of his book to recount the times he was summoned and interrogated by Israeli occupation police. He was first summoned on November 6, 1973, shortly after delivering a Friday sermon at the al-Aqsa Mosque titled “Arrogance and Its Harms,” in which he addressed the arrogance of the occupation and its arbitrariness, predicting that this arrogance would eventually turn against it.

He was first summoned on November 6, 1973.

At the time, the interrogator hinted to the sheikh that the sermons should be moderate and not incite extremism. Sheikh Sabri responded that Friday sermons are based on the verses of the Quran and the Prophet’s hadiths, and that Islam calls for moderation in everything.

Subsequent summonses and interrogation sessions focused mainly on the contents of the sheikh’s Friday sermons as well as his extensive participation alongside his people in their protests against the policies of the occupation. The investigations also probed into the conferences he attends, as well as the personalities he meets or communicates with.

Sheikh Ekrima Sabri enters al-Aqsa Mosque complex despite an Israeli ban in 2020.

A group of Palestinian activists and lawyers carry Sheikh Ekrima Sabri (aged 81 at the time) in the rain as he manages to enter the al-Aqsa Mosque complex on January 24, 2020, despite an Israeli ban.


Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu via Getty Images

These summonses resulted in military orders against the sheikh. The first was in 2007, when he was punished with a travel ban and later with expulsion from the al-Aqsa Mosque. Other decisions involved a ban on entering the West Bank and communicating with certain individuals, as well as making statements to some media outlets.

More than 85 years of Sheikh Sabri’s life have passed, the squares of Jerusalem and its mosques witnessing his steadfastness and firm positions despite obstacles and challenges. The charges presented against the sheikh, who has earned the title “Guardian of the Pulpit,” will certainly not faze him, but his words and the sermons he continues to deliver from al-Aqsa Mosque will remain a thorn in the side of Israeli intelligence, right-wing organizations, and extremists who see in the current state of emergency in the country a golden opportunity to target, imprison, and silence the elderly sheikh.



“Israeli Authorities to Charge Sheikh Ekrima Sabri with Incitement to Terrorism,” The Palestinian Information Center, January 18, 2024.


Twil, “Petition.”


Nevine Abdulhadi, “The Supreme Islamic Council in Jerusalem: Israeli Threats to Assassinate Ekrima Sabri” [in Arabic], ad-Dustour, October 9, 2023.


Tsayadey Hanazim (@tsayadeyhanazim), “Nazi Hunters” [in Hebrew], Telegram, October 12, 2023, 16:34.

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