Thousands of Israeli Arabs have demonstrated peacefully to mark "Land Day", a commemoration of a deadly protest against the confiscation of Arab land, and to speak out against the Israeli siege of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's headquarters.
Around 10,000 people turned out Saturday to hear speeches from Arab members of the Israeli parliament, including Azmi Bishara, the deputy who was stripped of his parliamentary immunity to face charges of inciting Arabs to violence against Israel.
Demonstrators carry a Palestinian and Lebanese Progressive Socialist flags during a street demonstration in front of the U.N. House in downtown Beirut Saturday, March 30, 2002. Demonstartors marched throughout the mideast Saturday to show their support for Arafat. (AP Photo/str)
Every year Israel's 1.1 million Arabs commemorate "Land Day" which marks the killing on March 30, 1976 of six Israeli Arabs by Israeli troops during protests over the confiscation of Arab lands. But this year, Israeli Arabs were jolted by the horrific images streaming out of Ramallah in the West Bank.
The crowd carried Palestinian flags and pictures of Arafat, and chanted their support for their fellow Arabs, as well as slogans against the Israeli government for its storming of Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah since Friday.
"Arafat all your people are with you," they shouted, "The wind can't move the mountain" and "Greetings from Kana to proud Ramallah, proud Gaza."
Some also chanted slogans against Israel's defence minister, shouting "Ben Eliezer, how many Palestinian children have you killed?"
The demonstrators gathered near a memorial to 13 Israeli Arabs killed in October 2000 by Israeli police as rallies in support of the Palestinian uprising, which had just then erupted, turned violent.
Bishara addressed the crowd, saying: "Land Day is a political subject, and has a relation to what is happening today.
"Arafat has been taken hostage along with the Palestinian people because (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon want to dictate to him the political agenda."
He called on Arab countries to appeal to the United States to exert its influence on restraining Sharon, "as they are the only want who can stop Sharon."
Rally organiser Wadih Awadi told AFP: "We all see ourselves as Yasser Arafats. The Israeli army can kill people but not the aspirations of the Palestinians for a sovereign state. A general strike is declared and observed in Arab villages."
He said Israeli Arabs would demonstrate outside Sharon's offices on Sunday and outside the defence ministry in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.
A large demonstrations was also scheduled later Saturday in the southern Negev, which houses a large Bedouin community.
Awadi said he had received guarantees from the police that Israeli forces would not intervene during the protests in order to avert possible unrest.
Israeli Arabs are Palestinians who remained when the state of Israel was created in 1948, unlike those Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes.
Copyright 2002 AFP