Acre, Israel – An estimated 250 protesters assembled on Monday in this northern coastal city, chanting slogans against the recent killing of Palestinian teen Muhammad Abu Khdair, against Israel’s ongoing airstrikes in the Gaza Strip and in support of a third Intifada (uprising).
After six consecutive days of large demonstrations, Israeli media and politicians have raised concerns that Palestinians in Israel, who number about 20 percent of the country’s population, will escalate their protests.
On Sunday night, police clashed with demonstrators in at least 19 Palestinian cities, towns and villages across Israel, mostly in the Galilee and Triangle regions. In Iksal, a Galilee village south of Nazareth, locals burned down a police outpost after clashes on Sunday, while in Nazareth, police clashed with local youth for four consecutive nights.
Other flash points included Tamra, Arrabe, Arrara and Shefa Amro, among others, and Israeli police used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets in several of the protests.
“The decision comes from Acre, and there’s no turning back, oh revolutionaries. Come down in the streets and let the world burn,” several at the Acre protest chanted in unison.
respect the martyr Muhammad Abu Khdeir and to protest the collective punishment of Palestinians.”]
Demonstrations in the West Bank and Israel have followed the death of Muhammad Abu Khdair, 17, who was killed last week after being abducted from near his home in the Shuafat neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. Police reported that on Monday three suspects confessed to killing the child.
Overnight Monday, Israel pounded the besieged Gaza Strip with airstrikes. Hamas and other groups fired 40 rockets into southern Israel, according to the Israeli military. The army called up 1,500 reservists and announced the launch of “Operation Protective Edge”, what could be the country’s third major military offensive against Gaza in the last six years.
“We see that the Palestinians are all one people, in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza,” Samer Asakli, a 22-year-old student activist at Haifa University who participated in the Acre protest, told Al Jazeera. “We came to Acre [to] respect the martyr Muhammad Abu Khdair and to protest the collective punishment of Palestinians.”
“At the end of the day, Israel’s racist policies towards us [in Israel] and to Palestinians elsewhere are part of its occupation,” Asakli added.
The demonstration in Acre passed without major confrontation despite a large police presence. Protesters came face-to-face with Israeli riot police after they staged a sit-in and blocked off one of the city’s main traffic arteries. But clashes were avoided when the demonstrators changed route and marched back through the historic Old City.
At least one participant, Ward Kayyal, a youth activist from Haifa, was arrested upon arrival at the protest.
“Over the weekend there were 60 people arrested while taking place in disturbances in places like Nazareth and villages around it,” Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told Al Jazeera. “There were Palestinians who threw petrol bombs in many places, but police used stun grenades” and weapons other than live ammunition.
“Israeli police officers and leaders of the Arab community in the north are working together to calm the situation and do what needs to be done to [alleviate] the tension,” Rosenfeld added.
Yet Salah Mohsen, a spokesperson for Adalah Legal Center, says that more than 100 Palestinian citizens of Israel were arrested since last Thursday. “Almost half of the detainees are minors, and some are as young as 15 years old,” Mohsen told Al Jazeera.
“In many cases, the court deals with the detention as a collective issue and doesn’t look into the specific circumstances of each arrest. In one arbitrary instance, patrons of a café and the owner were arrested without reason,” Mohsen said.
Arabs 48, an Arabic-language news site covering Palestinians in Israel, reported that overnight Sunday several political leaders were detained: Yousef Nobar, secretary of the Shefa Amro youth assembly, Murad Haddad, a member of Shefa Amro’s local municipality, and Raja’ Eghbariya, a high ranking leader of the Abna al-Balad (“Sons of the Homeland”) political movement.
Writing on his Facebook page on Saturday, hardline Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for “harsh punishment” of Palestinian citizens of Israel, who he claimed “enjoy Israeli citizenship but act like terrorists”.
Some 1.7 million Palestinians carry Israeli citizenship. According to Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, more than 50 discriminatory laws limit their freedom of political expression and access to state resources, including land.
The root causes of unrest are inequality and increasingly discriminatory policies, according to Adalah’s Mohsen. Israel “continues treating Palestinians in Israel like second-class citizens,” he said. “And if the situation continues and there is another massive assault on Gaza, the protests will continue to grow.”
The Follow-Up Committee for Arabs in Israel announced yesterday that nationwide demonstrations will be held on Wednesday, including a central event in Nazareth.
Follow Patrick O. Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_