Israeli Arab parties join leftist protests against Bush visit
Far-right activists arrested as Bush arrives in Jerusalem; Gazans stage protest against Bush visit.
Israeli Arab party representatives joined left-wing protests around the country to demonstrate on Wednesday against U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Israel and the West Bank.
Bush arrived in Israel earlier Wednesday, on the first leg of a weeklong tour of the Middle East. During the three days he is in Israel, he was to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as part of American efforts to reach a Middle East peace deal by the end of the year.
Several hundred Hadash activists participated in an anti-Bush demonstration in front of the American Consulate in West Jerusalem. They reached the site by foot due to the checkpoints and massive streets closures in the city, designed to facilitate the movement of Bush's convoy.
Hadash Chairman Mohammed Barakeh said during the demonstration that "Bush totally and blindly adopts Israel's most extreme positions and prevents progress toward a final-status agreement. Without international pressure on the government of Israel, there won't be progress in the peace process."
Balad party members also protested the visit at universities in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, and in Nazareth and Umm al-Fahm. Faction head Jamal Zahalka said in an a press announcement that "the 'Israelified' American position is becoming a vague echo of Israeli policy."
Zahalka attacked Bush's support for Israel as a Jewish state, saying, "The meaning of this is to erase the right of return [of Palestinian refugees] and to rule out to rights of millions of Palestinian citizens in Israel."
Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List) said a Knesset speech on Wednesday that Bush is one of "the primary causes of the instability in the Middle East." He blamed Bush for an unbalanced policy, adding, "He has the vision of someone more in love with a process than with peace itself."
Earlier Wednesday, Jerusalem police detained far-right activists Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel while they protested outside President Shimon Peres` residence, ahead of U.S. President George W. Bush's arrival at the location.
Nasrallah: Bush visit marks black day The leader of Hezbollah said on Wednesday U.S. President George Bush's visit to the Middle East marked a black day in the history of Arabs and Muslims.
Hassan Nasrallah said Bush was deceiving Arabs by trying to depict Iran, not Israel, as their enemy.
"We must record that today is a black day in the history of the Arab region and in the history of our Arab and Muslim nation," Nasrallah told a Shi'ite Muslim religious gathering to the chants of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel".
Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, is a sworn enemy of Israel and is on Washington's terrorist list. It fought a 34-day war with Israel last year and backs militant Palestinian groups.
"Bush comes to the region practicing the largest deception operation in history by saying that he is coming to protect Arabs and especially Gulf states from Iran," Nasrallah said.
Gazans protest Bush Thousands of Palestinian hard-liners in Gaza staged protests against Bush on Wednesday, burning Bush in effigy and underscoring the deep political split with West Bank moderates who welcomed the visit of the U.S. president as an important gesture to the Palestinians.
Supporters of the Islamic militant Hamas chanted "Death to America," and burned U.S. and Israeli flags. A shadowy Al-Qaida-inspired group appeared in public for the first time with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and uttered vague threats against U.S. targets.
The men wore black robes over above-the-ankle black pants. Some wore red headbands with the words "death squad."
A spokesman for the group, who only gave his nom de guerre, Abu Hafs, said Bush was not welcome in the Palestinian territories. "We are coming, not to Bush in Tel Aviv, but God willing to Washington," he said.
He described members of the terror network Al-Qaida as brothers, with similar methods and ideology, but added that there is no complete connection to his group.
A senior Abbas aide, Yasser Abed Rabbo, said the Bush visit was an important opportunity for the Palestinians to make their demands heard. "By receiving Bush, we are not conceding our rights," Abed Rabbo said, addressing critics at home. "We are focusing on our rights before the entire world, and we will say there will be no peace in the region, and no peace in the world without people obtaining these rights."
However, polls indicate that the vast majority of Palestinians are either indifferent to U.S. peace promises or deeply skeptical a deal with Israel can be negotiated. The U.S. administration is widely perceived in the Palestinian territories as a friend and ally of Israel, at the expense of the Palestinians.
In Hamas-ruled Gaza, about 5,000 supporters of the Islamic militant group marched in the streets to protest the visit, burning effigies of Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Some held posters showing a dog biting Bush's head, and of a young man stepping on Bush's head with his shoe.
Mahmoud Zahar, a leading Hamas hard-liner, told Hamas radio that "whoever holds much hope for the visit will be disappointed."
Even some Abbas supporters were critical of the U.S. leader.
Some 200 supporters allied with Abbas' Fatah movement and other secular Palestinian factions urged Bush to abandon what they said was his pro-Israel bias.
"We call on President Bush in his visit to adopt an equal standard, and not to continue the biased policy in favor of the occupation government," a senior Fatah leader in Gaza, Zakariya al-Agha, told the marchers.
Jerusalem Police sources said Tuesday that disturbances by extremist Israeli groups top the list of their concerns as the capital geared up for Bush's three-day visit. The more than 8,000 police officers assigned to protect Jerusalem for the next three days are preparing for protests, both legal and illegal. Dozens of streets are to close to to traffic each
Police questioned Tuesday right-wing activists suspected of hanging up posters featuring images of Bush, Olmert and Peres wearing kaffiyehs. Officers said they did not think the activists had violated the law against incitement, but that they would probably be accused of vandalism.
Last week, police questioned right-wing activists accused of printing shirts with the logo of the outlawed far-right Kach group ahead of a protest scheduled to take place during Bush's visit.
The Hadash party and the Almagor association of terror victims planned separate protests Wednesday; both groups have received permits for their demonstration. Police also expect supporters of Jonathan Pollard, an American citizen serving a life sentence for spying for Israel, to demonstrate in favor of his release from prison. Pollard supporters once reached the floor of the hotel where U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was staying in an effort to convey their demands.
Jerusalem District Police chief Aharon Franco said Tuesday that police have not received any intelligence indicating that terrorists plan to attack Bush's convoy or any other targets in the city during the president's visit. Franco said this week he was confident Bush's visit would not be sabotaged.
Until Bush's departure on Friday, Jerusalem residents will have to contend with the traffic jams expected as a result of the closing of more than 20 streets, including central thoroughfares. Click here for detailed information on security measures that will be taken in the city.