Israeli Security Forces Brace For Violence

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:09 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Against a backdrop of terrorism and Israeli-Palestinian clashes, tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs are expected to take to the streets on Friday to mark "Land Day," the annual commemoration of Israeli expropriation of some Arab lands.

Israeli security forces are on high alert throughout Israel and the disputed territories ahead of planned rallies. Palestinian leaders have called for a violent protests - a "day of rage."

By contrast, Israeli Arab leaders are calling for calm. Israeli security heads have also agreed to keep forces away from the protests in an effort to avoid friction.

Israeli Arabs remain bitter about clashes with Israeli police last October which left 13 of their number dead. The incident occurred when Israeli Arabs took to the streets in violent protests, in support of the Palestinians at the beginning of their "uprising."

The deaths of the 13 coupled with the continued security deterioration in the disputed territories and concerns that militants might try to inflame the crowds, have heightened fears that today's demonstrations could turn violent.

"The people really feel very angry," said Dr. Ahmad Sa'di, professor of politics and government at Ben Gurion University. "The general mood is that of anger and disappointment."

"By and large the mayors don't have influence over the people," Sa'di said of the Arab communities' leaders appeal to the government to allow them, rather than the police, to handle any trouble.

Sa'di said if the police stay away from the villages and don't come into contact with protestors, then there shouldn't be any confrontation.

Dr. Muhammad Amara, politics professor at Bar Ilan University, described the mood of Israel's Arab minority as "depressed." But he too believed that the day would pass peacefully if police and protestors avoid contact.

"Land Day symbolizes the situation for Arabs in Israel in relation to establishment [of the state]," Amara said. "Discrimination against Arabs in the civic domain, a lack of peaceful settlement with Palestinians ... [and] increasing clashes leads to depression on this day," he added.

Israel's Arab citizens represent about 20 percent of the total population of some six million. Many of them have relatives among the Palestinian Arabs in the disputed territories.

They often accuse the government of discriminating against them in services and politics.

Amara said Israeli Arabs are in general still unsure of what policy to adopt, after learning "many lessons" during last October's rioting.

Leaders do not have a clear strategy for achieving their social and political goals and are asking themselves about their identity and whether they it is possible for them to be considered equal citizens when they live in a Jewish state, Amara said.

In his view, some Israeli leaders do understand that relations between the countries Jewish and Arab citizens need to be improved. But Amara was not optimistic there would be any real changes in the near future.

According to Sa'di, "for many years people tried to live their lives regardless of the ideological gap." The late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin tried to involve the Arabs more, he said, but few people believed that would happen now.

PA Chairman Yasser Arafat has tried to draw the Israeli Arabs into his campaign against Israel. Official PA maps record Israeli Arab towns and villages as Palestinian communities. Israeli Arab children are also invited to participate in Palestinian "summer camps" - many of which include paramilitary training.

Arafat vowed on Thursday to continue the "uprising," following Israel's bombing of the headquarters of his presidential guard in response to an accelerated wave of terrorism.

"Our people will continue the ... intifada [uprising] until we raise the Palestinian flag in every mosque and church and on the walls of Jerusalem," he said in Ramallah.

Palestinian violence broke out last September after negotiations between Israel and the PA broke down in the summer.

Arafat was widely blamed for the deadlock after he refused to accept an offer by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to cede more than 95 percent of the disputed territories, as well as control over Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Judaism's holiest site, also revered by Muslims.

That Israeli Arabs and Palestinians feel an affinity is not surprising. Both originate from the region, and share ethnicity and - for the most part - religion. After the formation of Israel in 1948 Arabs living in the area who chose to become citizens did so.

Others decided to identify themselves as "Palestinian," thus adopting a term used previously only as a geographical adjective - Palestinian Jews, Palestinian Arabs, Palestinian weather patterns, etc. - rather than as an ethnic definition.