700 Have Been Detained in Demonstrations Held in Israel against War Crimes in the Gaza Strip

Over 700 citizens and residents of Israel, mostly Arab-Palestinian, have been detained since Israel began its military attacks on the Gaza Strip on 27 December 2008.  Detentions were made in the wake of public demonstrations, held primarily in northern Israel, Tel-Aviv-Jaffa, and also in the southern city of Bee-Sheva, against Israel’s war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

In addition to the detention of demonstrators, Israel conducted interrogations and preventative detentions of Palestinian leaders in Israel.  The Chairperson of the National Democratic Assembly (Balad), Awad Abd al-Fatah, spent a night in detention and was subsequently released without charges.  The Secretary of the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (Hadash), Ayman Odeh, was interrogated by the GSS (Shin-Bet), as were leaders of the Abna al-Balad, Muhammad Canaane and Raja Aghbariya.

The violation of the right to freedom of expression of citizens and residents in Israel is part of two separate but interrelated campaigns being waged by the Israeli government: the (further) marginalization and de-legitimization of Arab-Palestinians, a national minority in Israel, and the concealment of protest within Israel against the attacks on Gaza.

On 12 January, Israel’s Central Elections Committee acquiesced to a request by the radical right-wing National Unity political party to ban two Arab parties from participating in national elections scheduled for February.  The Elections Committee, a partisan body composed of representatives of the political parties, voted overwhelmingly to ban the parties.  The Labour Party representative on the committee, Eitan Kabel, also voted — “for patriotic reasons” — for the ban despite his party’s decision not to support it.  However, analysts predict that Israel’s Supreme Court, to which a petition in this matter was submitted today (Monday, January 19, 2009), will overturn this partisan and racist decision.

The detentions are additionally part of Israel’s mostly successful campaign to conceal internal popular protests against Israeli attacks on Gaza.  Hundreds of thousands of people throughout Israel, both Arabs and Jews, have taken to the streets in public protest against Israeli war crimes in Gaza.  Protests throughout Israel have occurred almost every day since Israel commenced attacks on 27 December; the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee has organized three massive demonstrations in Palestinian towns and villages in northern and southern Israel, involving over 200,000 people, and the Coalition against the War has led local and national demonstrations with tens of thousands of participants, mostly members of Hadash and the Communist Party of Israel, in Tel-Aviv and other mayor cities.  The concerted campaign by the Israeli government and Zionist political parties from the “left-wing” Meretz to the far right has succeeded, however, in creating a local and international illusion that there exists no opposition to the military attacks within Israel.