Thousands Protest in Nazareth in Support of Former MK Bishara

Representatives from each Arab political party attend rally; Bishara addresses crowd by phone.

Jonathan Lis
Haaretz Service
Yoav Stern
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Jonathan Lis
Haaretz Service
Yoav Stern

Thousands of protestors took part in a demonstration in Nazareth on Saturday held in support of former MK Azmi Bishara. Among the protestors and speakers were representatives from each of Israel's Arab political parties and members of Bishara's family.

The majority of the protestors were reported seen carrying photos of Bishara and placards reading "My guilt is that I love my homeland." Many of the demonstrators were also heard chanting, "With blood and fire we will redeem you Azmi."

Bishara spoke by telephone to the protesters, stating "our intellect and our words are our weapons. Never in my life did I draw a gun or kill anyone."

The chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, Shuweiki Hatib, told protesters that "the entire Arab public is united against this incitement. We are a strong people and are proud of all of our leaders."

Hatib added that while there are divisions within the Arab sector, it should be expected from "a people that is trying to live. We may fight, we may argue, but we are united on the most important issues."

Hatib later addressed the Israeli Jewish public saying, "Your approach is destructive. It will bring destruction on both peoples in this land, Jews and Arabs. We are the salt of the earth, the original stewards of the land and our equality must be assured."

He also described the charges against Bishara as merely a symptom of the failures of the Israeli government saying "the Israeli establishment is crumbling, and the charges against Bishara prove this."

The leader of the northern branch of Islamic Movement, Sheik Ra'ad Salah said at the protest "We are staying here, just as the hyssop herb and the olive tree."

Earlier this week the authorities permitted the media to report that Bishara is suspected of serious security violations, including assistance to the enemy in time of war, passing information to an enemy and contacts with a foreign agent.

In four days the gag order preventing complete coverage of the investigation into Bishara will be lifted.

Bishara denies all the allegations and said Thursday that Hezbollah has more military intelligence on Israel than he does. He also said he does not see any possibility of receiving a fair trial in Israel.

A document released on Thursday to the media on the Bishara investigation implies that the police will arrest him when he returns to Israel, as he no longer enjoys parliamentary immunity.

In an interview with the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram published on Saturday, Bishara says he has received several offers of shelter from Arab states but has yet to decide where to reside. Bishara said Cairo was one of the options that appealed to him.

Bishara resigned from the Knesset at the Israeli embassy in Cairo earlier this week.

Bishara also said that his resignation from the Knesset "embarrassed the Israeli right, which was preparing to incite the public against me due to the accusations I'm facing."

According to Bishara, he would face a lose-lose situation were he to return to Israel now. "Were an Israeli court to convict me, it would harm the legitimacy of the national Arab movement in Israel," he said. "Were I to be acquitted, it would be seen as an acquittal from supporting resistance."