|Palestinian men pray in front of Israeli police outside the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem [AFP]|
“This is murder and a crime,” says the 82-year-old Palestinian standing on a Jaffa street corner.
“Killing children, destroying homes on top of the women and children still inside them – this is murder. Don’t they see what they are doing?”
This man has been standing on this same street corner every evening since the Israeli assault on Gaza began in late December.
He is one in a crowd of varying sizes – sometimes less than 100, sometimes 1000-strong – forming a candle-lit protest vigil in Jaffa, a mixed Arab-Jewish city just south of Tel Aviv.
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This daily demonstration is just one in a chain of anti-war protests staged across Israel by its Palestinian citizens.
This sector of society – around 20 per cent of the population – is overwhelmingly against the war on Gaza at a time when most Jewish Israelis support the assault.
The latest polls show that more than 94 per cent of Israel’s Jewish population backs the war, while 85 per cent of the Palestinian sector opposes it.
“We don’t know how to express our emotions, our anger and our sorrow at what is happening,” says Buthayna, another demonstrator at the Jaffa street vigil.
“All we can think about are the massacres in Gaza of our people. And our big sorrow is that we have no influence, the whole Jewish state wants this war.”
Tens of thousands demonstrated in the Palestinian-Israeli village of Baka al-Gharbiya last week, while 10,000 more protested in the Galilee village of Sakhnin a few weeks ago, in what the town mayor described as “the biggest procession in the history of the Palestinian people in Israel”.
While protests have been many, Palestinian-Israelis (or ‘Arab-Israelis’ as they are more commonly labelled) say that there have been attempts to dissuade them from such action.
“Most people are frightened,” says Hana Amoury, a 25-year-old political activist from Jaffa.
“The authorities work really hard to put people off protesting in the streets and are arresting demonstrators all over the country.”
According to several sources, over 500 Palestinian-Israelis have been arrested since the start of the war on Gaza. Many of those are still in prison, and around half are under 18.
One protester, who has been questioned both by the Israeli police and the Israeli security services, says: “They try to trick us into saying we support terror and are against the state of Israel.”
Other residents of Jaffa talk of the “police vans on every street corner” during the past weeks of the Israeli war on Gaza.
Last week, Israel’s parliament banned two Arab-Israeli parties from running in the forthcoming election.
|Palestinian-Israelis protest against Israel’s war on Gaza [AFP]|
The all-party central election committee accused the two parties of incitement and supporting terrorist groups.
The Israeli Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether to uphold this ban, which Ahmed Tibi, a member of the Israeli Knesset, has described as “a political trial led by a group of Fascists and racists”.
Tibi has previously spoken out against the war on Gaza, describing it as “genocide”.
Palestinian commentators say that the Gaza war and the treatment of Palestinian-Israelis at this time is simply a manifestation of ever-widening gaps between Arab and Jewish sectors of society.
“The Palestinians in Israel don’t count, not in the politics of peace and not in the politics of war,” says Dr Adel Manna, a historian and director of the Centre for the Study of Arab Society in Israel.
“The common good of the Israeli society is a Jewish Zionist one, so anybody who is not Jewish or not a Zionist is totally outside.”
Several analysts point out that, whereas once calls for “transfer” of Israel’s Palestinian population into the Palestinian territories was a battle cry of the extreme right, it has now become more mainstream.
In November, Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said that any future Palestinian state would be a “comprehensive national solution” for all Palestinians, including those currently living within Israel.
On the day-to-day level, some are so appalled at Israeli actions than they struggle to participate in everyday life within Israel.
“I have given up four jobs in 20 days,” says Samieh Jabbarin, from Jaffa.
“I didn’t want to be involved with Zionists because I know the minute we start to discuss things, it will get very hard so I try to avoid such situations.”
Others deconstruct the majority Jewish support for the war within Israel.
“The Israeli population don’t support the war because they believe in killing children and civilians,” says Amoury.
“It’s just that they have been told these lies for so many years, that the only solution here is military, and that weakening the Palestinians is the only way for Jews to stay on this land.”
But the stark differences of opinion over this war have not resulted in violent clashes between Arab and Jewish co-nationalists in Israel – perhaps because both sides are wary of such a confrontation.
“The tension and the potential is there, but people are feeling that these are extreme days and if one got into a clash with the other, it would be very serious,” says Jabbarin.
“People are cautious, but they are burning inside.”