Israeli Arabs Protest Banning of PFLP Founder Memorial Service

Police: Rally was to praise Habash's 'terrorist' group; Organizer: We're not surprised by oppression of Arabs.

Arab demonstrators rallied in Haifa on Saturday in protest of a police decision to ban an open-air memorial service for George Habash, the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Mohammed Kanana, secretary general of Ibnaa el-Balad (Sons of the Country), which organized the rally, told Haaretz he had not been surprised by the police decision.

"Israel Police is famous for its oppression of the Arab public and for its opposition to lawful democratic activity," he said.

The event was supposed to be held on Saturday, marking the first anniversary of Habash's death. Among the invited speakers were Arab public figures, clergymen, and Habash's relatives living in Israel.

Kanana said that the event was not to be a support rally for the Popular Front, but merely a memorial service.

A police spokesperson said on Friday that "on Saturday a rally in support of Habash's organization was supposed to take place, under the guise of an election rally. Since it's a terrorist organization, such activities are banned by law."

Kanana said he rejects the claims that Habash was a terrorist.

"Habash fought against Zionism and imperialism," he said. "He enjoyed a special status among the Palestinians, as well as among Israeli Arabs. Terrorists are the people who carry out carnages in Palestine, Lebanon and everywhere for over sixty years. It's no different to what the Nazis and the Fascists did in Europe."

The Sons of the Country have been urging Israeli Arabs to boycott the national elections.

Meanwhile on Saturday, Balad activists demonstrated outside an election rally held by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter in the Arab village of Eilabun, in protest of his involvement in the killing of the top Hamas commander Salah Shehadeh in 2002, in which 14 civilians were killed. They carried banners calling Dichter a "murderer" and "war criminal." They also called on Arab voters to refrain from voting for Zionist parties.

Earlier this week, a Spanish judge launched an investigation into seven current or former Israeli officials, including Dichter, over the bombing in Gaza that killed Shehadeh.