Ramallah-Founder of Israel’s Islamic Movement Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish died on Sunday at the age of 69 at Hasharon Hospital in Petah Tikva after suffering from a number of illnesses.
Darwish was born and raised in Kafr Qasem, an Arab city east of Tel Aviv. He studied at an Islamic college in the West Bank city of Nablus and began working as an Islamic preacher in the early 1970s.
In 1979 he established Usrat al-Jihad (“Family of Jihad”), an organization that later became the Islamic Movement in Israel.
The movement’s ideology is based on the teachings of the founder of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna.
In 1981 Darwish was arrested for his membership in Usrat al-Jihad; he was released in 1983.
Throughout the 1980s, Darwish’s movement grew in popularity and by 1989 it had five mayoralties and 45 seats on 11 municipal and local councils.
The group provides services often lacking in Israel’s Arab communities, including kindergartens, colleges, health clinics, mosques and even a sports league.
The Oslo peace process of the 1990s proved to be a dividing moment between Darwish and more radical elements of the movement led by Raed Salah. Darwish supported the peace process, while Salah opposed it.
This difference led to a split in the movement between the Southern Branch, which was led by Darwish, and the Northern Branch, led by Salah.
Today, the Southern Branch is represented in the Knesset as a party in the Joint (Arab) List faction. Three of the Joint List’s 13 current Knesset members are part of the movement.
Despite the ideological split in the Islamic movement, the northern branch’s Salah released a statement on Sunday mourning Darwish’s death.