Monday, January 12, 2009

Palestine News Update: United Nations Human Rights Council Condemns Israeli Offensive

Monday, January 12, 2009
20:40 Mecca time, 17:40 GMT

UN watchdog condemns war on Gaza

The UN rights body adopted a resolution condemning Israel of 'grave violations'

A resolution condemning Israel's military offensive in Gaza has been adopted by the UN Human Rights Council.

The non-binding resolution, approved in Geneva on Monday, said Israel's operation had "resulted in massive violations of human rights of the Palestinian people".

More than 900 Palestinians have died during the fighting, many of them women and children, and a further 4,100 have been wounded.

At least 25,000 have been displaced due to the ongoing bombardment, but are unable to flee the overcrowded territory as crossing points remain closed.

The resolution, drafted by Arab, Asian and African countries, called for an international mission to be sent immediately to the Gaza Strip to investigate Israel's actions.

It also called for an immediate end to the "launching of the crude rockets against Israeli civilians" by the Palestinian factions.

Israel launched its operation on December 27 after a ceasefire with Hamas ended a week earlier, stating its objective was to target the Palestinian faction's infrastructure and bring an end to the firing of homemade rockets into southern Israel.

'Fairytale world'

Fewer states than expected supported the resolution, which passed by 33 votes to one, with 13 abstentions. The US, not a member of the council, took no part in the debate.

Israel dismissed it as one-sided and reflecting the "fairytale world" of the 47-member council.

The text of the document said the council "strongly condemns the ongoing Israeli military operations ... which have resulted in massive violations of human rights of the Palestinian people and systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure".

The resolution was opposed by Canada while European countries, Japan and South Korea abstained.

The resolution was backed by, among others, Russia, China, Argentina and Brazil.

During a debate on the resolution, Pakistan, speaking for the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), denounced what it called Israel's "unrestrained use of force, killing of innocent civilians" and violation of UN havens.

At least 40 people died last Tuesday when the UN-run school they were sheltering in was hit by Israeli fire.

'Massive violations'

All European Union countries abstained and Canada voted against the resolution.

Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera: "In the end they [the UN] passed the resolution, it was not unanimous. I would not say it was that heated, at the end of the day there were still differences of opinion.

Speaking in the Gaza Strip, John Ging, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) operations in Gaza, repeated his call for an immediate end to the fighting.

"I say now, to all politicians, here in Israel and internationally, you have an obligation to the ordinary people in the name of humanity and all that is civilised, we need to stop this now. Those who help will never be forgotten.

"Israel is responsible for its own actions and it is very clear to us that there are a lot of actions in this conflict that will need to be fully investigated independently and internationally.

Peter Splinter, Amnesty International's representative at the United Nations in Geneva, backed the call for an investigation, saying "there must be a full accountability for war crimes".

"Evidence of war crimes is presenting itself each day," he told Al Jazeera.

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, a former UN secretary-general, added his perspective on the situation, saying the assault on Gaza "is a present the Israelis gave to the fundamentalists".

"It will reinforce extremists, fundamentalists, all over Arab countries and even inside Israel," he said.

Boutros-Ghali was headed the UN from 1992 to 1997.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Monday, January 12, 2009
19:48 Mecca time, 16:48 GMT

Israeli troops battle Gaza fighters

Palestinian fighters have put up intense resistance to Israeli troops around Gaza City

Heavy fighting has been reported in the northern Gaza Strip and on the outskirts of Gaza City after Israel sent army reservists into the territory to support its ground forces.

The clashes on Monday raised fears that Israel was planning to move further into densely-populated urban centres as the offensive entered its 17th day.

Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Gaza City, said: "We have had fighting to the north, east and south of Gaza City ... certainly we are hearing an intensification of ground operations.

"There are gun battles between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters in the areas of east Jabaliya and Tuffah. We are also hearing eyewitness reports that several houses have been demolished in the north, in Beit Hanoun and in other areas."

More than 900 Palestinians have died, including 277 children and 95 woman, since the Israeli operation began on December 27 and there are fears that any push into urban areas could cause even greater casualties.

Aerial bombardment

The Israeli military said air raids were carried out on at least 25 targets across the Gaza Strip including groups of Palestinian fighters, rocket-launching sites and smuggling tunnels in the southern Rafah area.

The homes of Hamas leaders, which Israel said contained weapons stores, were also hit.

"The army achieved in 16 days what no other country in the world fighting terror has done in 16 years," Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, said on Monday.

"The IDF [Israeli Defence Force] is making great achievements in terms of caution and operations in Gaza. It must continue that way."

However, Palestinian fighters have continued to fire rockets across the border into southern Israel, despite the stated aim of the offensive being to end these attacks, and Hamas said it would continue to battle Israeli troops inside Gaza.

"The Palestinian resistance is standing steadfast on the battlefield as it is in the political arena," Khaled Meshaal, Hamas's exiled political leader, said.

"The resistance cannot be broken in the face of the Israeli aggression, nor can our resolve despite the deep wounds, the great pains, the massacres, the destruction, the punishments and mass killings."

Thirteen Israelis have been killed since the offensive began, including three civilians hit by rocket fire.

Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, said that the military operation would end once Hamas's military wing halted its rocket attacks.

"We want to end the operation when the two conditions we have demanded are met: ending the rocket fire and stopping Hamas's rearmament. If these two conditions are met, we will end our operation in Gaza," he said in the southern town of Ashkelon.

"Anything else will meet the iron fist of the Israeli people, who are no longer ready to tolerate the Qassams."

Egyptian diplomacy

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli official, was expected to attend talks on an Egyptian ceasefire plan on Monday, but delayed his visit in what Israeli radio speculated was meant as a pressure tactic on Hamas.

The three-point plan calls for an immediate truce to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, talks on opening Gaza's crossings and taking steps to stops weapons smuggling, and relaunching Palestinian reconciliation efforts.

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister whose remit is limited to the West Bank, has said that the Egyptian initiative offers the best hope of peace.

"Not accepting the Egyptian initiative should not be an option," he said. "He who refuses, voices reservations or moves slowly on this initiative bears the responsibility of explaining themselves, especially to the people of Gaza."

Osama Hamdan, a Hamas leader in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera that the Palestinian group was still discussing the Egyptian plan.

"What is offered until now is less than what the Palestinian people wanted. There may be some other initiatives raised in the next few days," he said.

Meanwhile, Egyptian authorities allowed 61 Arab doctors to enter the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing on Monday morning to help treat some of the nearly 4,000 Palestinians who have been injured in the bombardment.

"I don't know if the world disaster would cover the situation in Gaza right now, from the medical point of view it is a critical situation," Dr Dragfinn Bjorklid, the co-ordinator for the Norwegian Aid Committee, told Al Jazeera.

"I am in the Shifa hospital where I have been for six days," he said. "It is overwhelming with all the patients coming in, we are receiving between 120 and 200 cases every day in the emergency surgical department.

"There are lacks of even basic disposables and medicines and equipment, and also possibly most important is the lack of maintenance of the equipment here."

Aid deliveries

More than 100 lorries carrying aid were allowed to enter the territory via the Kerem Shalom crossing on Monday and another 60 were expected to pass through the Kari point.

However, Princess Haya bint al Hussein, a UN Messenger of Peace and wife of the ruler of Dubai, told Al Jazeera that efforts to get aid into the Gaza Strip have been hampered.

"I heard yesterday that from the 10 trucks we had scheduled to go in, which started at 15, now we've been asked to drop the capacity of each truck by 10 per cent.

"Things like this when the food is ready to go in, sitting on the border really do cause major frustrations.

"I can't understand why we have red tape in humanitarian efforts."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

Monday, January 12, 2009
16:59 Mecca time, 13:59 GMT

Who will save Israel from itself?

By Mark LeVine

The Israeli government's justifications for the war are being scrutinised

One by one the justifications given by Israel for its latest war in Gaza are unravelling.

The argument that this is a purely defensive war, launched only after Hamas broke a six-month ceasefire has been challenged, not just by observers in the know such as Jimmy Carter, the former US president who helped facilitate the truce, but by centre-right Israeli intelligence think tanks.

The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, whose December 31 report titled "Six Months of the Lull Arrangement Intelligence Report," confirmed that the June 19 truce was only "sporadically violated, and then not by Hamas but instead by ... "rogue terrorist organisations".

Instead, "the escalation and erosion of the lull arrangement" occurred after Israel killed six Hamas members on November 4 without provocation and then placed the entire Strip under an even more intensive siege the next day.

According to a joint Tel Aviv University-European University study, this fits a larger pattern in which Israeli violence has been responsible for ending 79 per cent of all lulls in violence since the outbreak of the second intifada, compared with only 8 per cent for Hamas and other Palestinian factions.

Indeed, the Israeli foreign ministry seems to realise that this argument is losing credibility.

During a conference call with half a dozen pro-Israel professors on Thursday, Asaf Shariv, the Consul General of Israel in New York, focused more on the importance of destroying the intricate tunnel system connecting Gaza to the Sinai.

He claimed that such tunnels were "as big as the Holland and Lincoln tunnels," and offered as proof the "fact" that lions and monkeys had been smuggled through them to a zoo in Gaza. In reality, the lions were two small cubs that were drugged, thrown in sacks, and dragged through a tunnel on their way to a private zoo.

Israel's self-image

The claim that Hamas will never accept the existence of Israel has proved equally misinformed, as Hamas leaders explicitly announce their intention to do just that in the pages of the Los Angeles Times or to any international leader or journalist who will meet with them.

With each new family, 10, 20 and 30 strong, buried under the rubble of a building in Gaza, the claim that the Israeli forces have gone out of their way to diminish civilian casualties - long a centre-piece of Israel's image as an enlightened and moral democracy - is falling apart.

Anyone with an internet connection can Google "Gaza humanitarian catastrophe" and find the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Territories and read the thousands of pages of evidence documenting the reality of the current fighting, and the long term siege on Gaza that preceded it.

The Red Cross, normally scrupulous in its unwillingness to single out parties to a conflict for criticism, sharply criticised Israel for preventing medical personnel from reaching wounded Palestinians, some of whom remained trapped for days, slowly starving and dying in the Gazan rubble amidst their dead relatives.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has flatly denied Israeli claims that Palestinian fighters were using the UNRWA school compound bombed on January 6, in which 40 civilians were killed, to launch attacks, and has challenged Israel to prove otherwise.

War crimes admission

Additionally, numerous flippant remarks by senior Israeli politicians and generals, including Tzipi Livni, the foreign minister, refusing to make a distinction between civilian people and institutions and fighters - "Hamas doesn't ... and neither should we" is how Livni puts it - are rightly being seen as admissions of war crimes.

Indeed, in reviewing statements by Israeli military planners leading up to the invasion, it is clear that there was a well thought out decision to go after Gaza's civilian infrastructure - and with it, civilians.

The following quote from an interview with Major-General Gadi Eisenkot that appeared in the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth in October, is telling:

"We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective these [the villages] are military bases," he said.

"This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorised."

Causing "immense damage and destruction" and considering entire villages "military bases" is absolutely prohibited under international law.

Eisenkot's description of this planning in light of what is now unfolding in Gaza is a clear admission of conspiracy and intent to commit war crimes, and when taken with the comments above, and numerous others, renders any argument by Israel that it has tried to protect civilians and is not engaging in disproportionate force unbelievable.

International laws violated

On the ground, the evidence mounts ever higher that Israel is systematically violating a host of international laws, including but not limited to Article 56 of the IV Hague Convention of 1907, the First Additional Protocol of the Geneva Convention, the Fourth Geneva Convention (more specifically known as the "Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949", the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the principles of Customary International Humanitarian Law.

None of this excuses or legitimises the firing of rockets or mortars by any Palestinian group at Israeli civilians and non-military targets.

As Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur, declared in his most recent statement on Gaza: "It should be pointed out unambiguously that there is no legal (or moral) justification for firing rockets at civilian targets, and that such behavior is a violation of IHR, associated with the right to life, as well as constitutes a war crime."

By the same logic, however, Israel does not have the right to use such attacks as an excuse to launch an all-out assault on the entire population of Gaza.

In this context, even Israel's suffering from the constant barrage of rockets is hard to pay due attention to when the numbers of dead and wounded on each side are counted. Any sense of proportion is impossible to sustain with such a calculus.

'Rogue' state

Israeli commentators and scholars, self-described "loyal" Zionists who served proudly in the army in wars past, are now publicly describing their country, in the words of Oxford University professor Avi Shlaim, as a "rogue" and gangster" state led by "completely unscrupulous leaders".

Neve Gordon, a politics professor at Ben Gurion University, has declared that Israel's actions in Gaza are like "raising animals for slaughter on a farm" and represent a "bizarre new moral element" in warfare.

"The moral voice of restraint has been left behind ... Everything is permitted" against Palestinians, writes a disgusted Haaretz columnist, Gideon Levy.

Fellow Haaretz columnist and daughter of Holocaust survivors, Amira Haas writes of her late parents disgust at how Israeli leaders justified Israel's wars with a "language laundromat" aimed at redefining reality and Israel's moral compass. "Lucky my parents aren't alive to see this," she exclaimed.

Around the world people are beginning to compare Israel's attack on Gaza, which after the 2005 withdrawal of Israeli forces and settlers was turned literally into the world's largest prison, to the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Extremist Muslims are using internet forums to collect names and addresses of prominent European Jews with the goal, it seems clear, of assassinating them in retaliation for Israel's actions in Gaza.

Al-Qaeda is attempting to exploit this crisis to gain a foothold in Gaza and Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria, as well as through attacking Jewish communities globally.

Iran's defiance of both Israel and its main sponsor, the US, is winning it increasing sympathy with each passing day.

Democratic values eroded

Inside Israel, the violence will continue to erode both democratic values in the Jewish community, and any acceptance of the Jewish state's legitimacy in the eyes of its Palestinian citizens.

And yet in the US - at least in Washington and in the offices of the mainstream Jewish organisations - the chorus of support for Israel's war on Gaza continues to sing in tight harmony with official Israeli policy, seemingly deaf to the fact that they have become so out of tune with the reality exploding around them.

At my university, UCI, where last summer Jewish and Muslim students organised a trip together through the occupied territories and Israel so they could see with their own eyes the realities there, old battle lines are being redrawn.

The Anteaters for Israel, the college pro-Israel group at the University of California, Irvine, sent out an urgent email to the community explaining that, "Over the past week, increasing amounts of evidence lead us to believe that Hamas is largely responsible for any alleged humanitarian crisis in Gaza".

I have no idea who the "us" is that is referred to in the appeal, although I am sure that the membership of that group is shrinking.

Indeed, one of the sad facts of this latest tragedy is that with each claim publicly refuted by facts on the ground, more and more Americans, including Jews, are refusing to trust the assertions of Israeli and American Jewish leaders.


Even worse, in the Arab/Muslim world, the horrific images pouring out of Gaza daily are allowing preachers and politicians to deploy well-worn yet still dangerous and inciteful stereotypes against Jews as they rally the masses against Israel - and through it - their own governments.

What is most frightening is that the most important of Israel's so-called friends, the US political establishment and the mainstream Jewish leadership, seem clueless to the devastating trap that Israel has led itself into - in good measure with their indulgence and even help.

It is one that threatens the country's existence far more than any Qassam rockets, with their 0.4 per cent kill rate; even more than the disastrous 2006 invasion of southern Lebanon, which by weakening Israel's deterrence capability in some measure made this war inevitable.

First, it is clear that Israel cannot destroy Hamas, it cannot stop the rockets unless it agrees to a truce that will go far to meeting the primary demand of Hamas - an end to the siege.

Merely by surviving (and it surely will survive) Hamas, like Hezbollah in 2006, will have won.

Israel is succeeding in doing little more than creating another generation of Palestinians with hearts filled with rage and a need for revenge.

Second, Israel's main patron, the US, along with the conservative Arab autocracies and monarchies that are its only allies left in the Muslim world, are losing whatever crumbs of legitimacy they still had with their young and angry populations.

The weaker the US and its axis becomes in the Middle East, the more precarious becomes Israel's long-term security. Indeed, any chance that the US could convince the Muslim world to pressure Iran to give up its quest for nuclear weapons has been buried in Gaza.

Third, as Israel brutalises Palestinians, it brutalises its own people. You cannot occupy another people and engage in violence against them at this scale without doing even greater damage to your soul.

The high incidence of violent crimes committed by veterans returning from combat duty in Iraq is but one example of how the violence of occupation and war eat away at people's moral centre.

While in the US only a small fraction of the population participates in war; in Israel, most able-bodied men end up participating.

The effects of the latest violence perpetrated against Palestinians upon the collective Israeli soul is incalculable; the notion that it can survive as an "ethnocracy" - favouring one ethnic group, Jews, yet by and large democratic - is becoming a fiction.


Who will save Israel from herself?

Israelis are clearly incapable. Their addiction as a society to the illusion of violence-as-power has reached the level of collective mental illness.

As Haaretz reporter Yossi Melman described it on January 10, "Israel has created an image of itself of a madman that has lost it".

Not Palestinians, too many of whom have fallen prey to the same condition.

Not the Middle East Quartet, the European Union, the United Nations, or the Arab League, all of whom are utterly powerless to influence Israeli policy.

Not the organised Jewish leadership in the US and Europe, who are even more blind to what is happening than most Israelis, who at least allow internal debate about the wisdom of their government's policies.

Not the growing progressive Jewish community, which will need years to achieve enough social and political power to challenge the status quo.

And not senior American politicians and policy-makers who are either unwilling to risk alienating American Jewish voters, or have been so brainwashed by the constant barrage of propaganda put out by the "Israel Lobby" that they are incapable of reaching an independent judgment about the conflict.

During the US presidential race, Barack Obama was ridiculed for being a messiah-like figure. The idea does not sound so funny now. It is hard to imagine anyone less saving Israel, the Palestinians, and the world from another four years of mindless violence.

Mark LeVine is a professor of Middle East history at the University of California, Irvine, and is the author of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and the soon to be published An Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera

Monday, January 12, 2009
17:20 Mecca time, 14:20 GMT

Displaced and desperate in Gaza

By Safa Joudeh in Gaza

Those who lived through the Palestinian 'nakba' say the current situation in Gaza evokes memories of that time

During the course of the Israeli air, ground and sea assaults on Gaza there has been a considerable shift in the nature of the offensive.

The aerial and ground attacks have risen in volume and ferocity and have shifted focus from civil security offices, public service buildings and mosques, to random bombardment of entire neighbourhoods, empty fields within the periphery of these neighbourhoods and vacated or partially vacated buildings.

Now, Israeli forces have taken to directly targeting and destroying residential buildings and homes, civilian cars transporting entire families and schools that provide shelter for the thousands of displaced families in the Gaza Strip.

'Tomorrow never comes'

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (Unrwa) schools turned shelters have provided cover from the rain and cold for many displaced Gazans but they have failed to provide protection from Israeli missiles.

Although 45 people were killed when a UN school in the northern city of Jabaliya - where 350 Gazans were taking shelter - was hit, those that survived have had little option other than to remain living in the building.

As in all of the 34 UN schools housing refugees in Gaza, those in Jabaliya sleep on the floor with little in the way of basic necessities.

Jalal is a 22-year-old engineering student whose home in the Zeitoun area of Gaza City was only a few metres away from the home of the Samouni family. When the Samouni family home was bombed, leaving 30 people dead, on the second day of the ground offensive, Jalal, his parents, brother and four sisters fled and took refuge in a Unrwa school.

"The first night of the ground incursion we all slept in the kitchen," Jalal said.

"The second day phosphorus bombs fell on our backyard and the barn, setting the hay and two animals on fire. Another came close to hitting my sister's head as she was praying.

"They're like balls of fire rolling on the ground."

Jalal says that in the shelter, "four families are placed in each classroom, that means between 30 and 40 people".

"It is cold at night and we went without food for 45 hours the first couple of days.

"Each day we tell each other that this day will be the last, that tomorrow we will go home and all this will end, but tomorrow never comes," he says.

'Nakba' memories evoked

Jalal's story echoes the accounts I have heard many times before from my grandfather and others who lived through the Palestinian 'nakba' or catastrophe in 1948.

"We fled the bombing of British warplanes, we locked our house and hid in the hills for days, each day thinking that tomorrow we would return, but tomorrow never came," my grandfather tells me.

"It has been 60 years and now it is happening again. This time we can't walk south to escape the bombing, like we walked from Asdood to Gaza. This time they want us to jump into the sea.

"But we won't, we'll die standing with our heads held high this time. We've learned from the past that it's better to die defending than to run and live.

"We've learned that life has no meaning when your roots, your birthright, your past and your present is stolen from you," he says.

Sleeping outside

About 15,000 people have now been displaced across the Gaza Strip. In Rafah alone, 800 families have fled and in the past few days many thousands more have been called upon by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes and neighbourhoods.

A few days ago I went for a walk around my neighbourhood. I left my home early in the morning and headed toward what is known as the Rimal market, a busy shopping area in the centre of Gaza City.

As I turned into one of the streets leading off the market, I noticed people, wrapped in blankets, sleeping outside their houses in the street.

In the next street was the ruins of what had been a Palestinian security compound, once a landmark in Gaza City. It had been hit by Israeli warplanes on three separate occasions, despite the fact that it was almost completely destroyed in the first attack.

If it were to be hit again, the houses in the surrounding streets, which had already sustained serious damage, would be in danger of collapsing. So the residents had concluded that it was safer to sleep outside in the bitter cold than to remain inside their homes.

Fleeing homes

The next day a number of carts drawn by donkeys were seen coming into Gaza City. They were loaded with people; elderly men and women, mothers and fathers with toddlers in their arms, small children wrapped in blankets, and what looked like bundles of clothes.

These people had fled their homes in the northern Gaza Strip and, with nowhere else to go, were seeking refuge in Gaza City.

Those not fleeing their homes have mainly been confined to them for days on end, without water, electricity or sufficient food.

A few days ago, a man called into a radio station and called on the Red Cross to try to reach his home in the Zeitoun area. He said the body of one of his relatives had been in his home for four days and that the family had been unable to leave the house to bury him because of constant heavy shelling in the area. The body was beginning to rot, he told the radio host.

As Israel continues its attack on the people of Gaza, all the while sticking to its claim that it is Hamas and not the Palestinian people being targeted, memories of the Palestinian 'nakba' are evoked across the Gaza Strip.

Source: Al Jazeera

Monday, January 12, 2009
21:39 Mecca time, 18:39 GMT

Israel poll ban for Arab parties

Tibi and other Arab MPs have opposed Israel's aerial and ground assault on the Gaza Strip

Two Arab political parties have been disqualified from running in Israel's parliamentary elections on February 10 after they were accused of not recognising the country's right to exist.

The panel voted on Monday to back a motion filed by two right-wing parties which also accused the National Democratic Assembly (also known as Balad) and Ra'am-Ta'al of incitement and supporting "terrorist" groups.

Ahmed Tibi and Jamal Zahalka, who lead the two Arab rivals in parliament, joined together in condemning Monday's decision.

"It was a political trial led by a group of fascists and racists who are willing to see the Knesset without Arabs and want to see the country without Arabs," Tibi said.

He said that his Ra'am-Ta'al party intended to petition the supreme court about the decision.

"If the members of the panel had weapons, they would have shot us in the head," Tibi said.

'Fifth column'

At a recent Knesset session called to discuss the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, Arab MPs condemned the conflict, which has now killed more than 900 Palestinians and injured thousands of others.

"As a humane person, I oppose targeting civilians wherever they are. Naturally, however, every time an Arab is injured it hurts me more because we are members of the same nation," Tibi told the Knesset.

In response, Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party which petitioned for the Arab parties to be barred, described the Arab MPs as a "fifth column" clandestinely undermining the nation.

Tibi responded by calling him a "fascist", while Talab al-Sana, another Arab MP, was removed from the meeting after repeatedly interrupting Lieberman's speech.

Zahalka had boycotted the Knesset session saying he was not willing to take part in a "celebration of death".

The two parties are the only exclusively Arab blocs in the Israeli Knesset, however the decision does not effect Arabs in predominantly Jewish parties or the communist party.

Together they hold seven of the 120 parliamentary seats.

About one-fifth of Israel's seven million citizens are Arabs with full citizenship rights, but have suffered due to discrimination and poverty.

Most are descended from the 160,000 Palestinians who remained after the creation of Israel in 1948 and the war on Gaza has heightened tensions between the communities.

Source: Agencies

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