(photo credit: AP)
Over 10,000 people demonstrated against Operation Cast Lead in the northern town of Sakhnin on Saturday, by far the biggest such protest in Israel so far.
According to organizers, it was the largest protest held by the Israeli-Arab sector in many years.
Marchers held Palestinian flags and even a smattering of green Hamas flags. They also held pictures of children said to have been killed during the IDF operation. There were no reports of violence.
The protest opened with a minute of silence, in memory of Palestinians killed in Gaza since the operation began.
The event was attended by several Arab Knesset members including Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) and Jamal Zahalka (Balad), as well as Arab mayors and other public officials from the Arab sector.
Zahalka demanded that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and IDF chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi be tried in an international tribunal for what he called "war crimes in Gaza."
The demonstration ended peacefully on Saturday afternoon, Police Northern District chief Cmdr. Shimon Koren said.
Koren added that police preparations and the ongoing dialogue between police and Arab communal leaders have "once again resulted in a peaceful demonstration," and called on the dialogue to "continue in the coming days."
Police Commissioner Insp.-Gen. Dudi Cohen, who toured the northern district on Saturday, said, "We approve demonstrations on the condition that they are held with a license and in a peaceful manner."
Cohen warned, however, that "all disturbances will be dealt in an uncompromising manner."
Meanwhile, Israel Beiteinu activists held counter-demonstrations at four junctions in the North. During the protests at the Megiddo, Mahanayim, Tishbi and Golani junctions, 100 demonstrators held signs and chanted slogans including, "No citizenship without loyalty!"
Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman said that "in the same way that the Israeli government knows that it is impossible to stop the operation in Gaza until Hamas is eradicated, [the government] must act against those Israeli citizens who are not loyal to the State of Israel."
"The demonstration in Sakhnin in which 10,000 protesters are participating, proves that their loyalty is to Hamas and to those who want to destroy Israel," Lieberman continued.
Over the past week, 210 Arabs were arrested in the North for endangering lives, rock throwing, and other offenses. A total of 126 suspects remain in custody, and 16 indictments have already been served.
Across the country, 442 Arabs have been arrested for violent disturbances, 149 of those minors. A total of 384 Palestinians who crossed into the country illegally have been arrested since the Gaza operation began.
Police remain mobilized in a three-ring formation stretching from the Green Line to city centers, and continue to operated under the Special C level of alert.
Twelve thousand officers are patrolling across the country. In the South, police are focusing on protecting lives and reaching all rocket-landing zones.