Hassan Shaalan
January 31, 2011 - 1:00am

Hundreds of sector's representatives reject Olmert government's initiative for land exchange in divided Arab towns, say 'we were born here and will die here'

Hundreds of representatives of the Arab sector gathered in the northern city of Baqa al-Gharbiyye on Saturday afternoon and clarified that they would not agree to be transferred to the Palestinian territories.

Israel's Arabs launched the protest following a revelation by the al-Jazeera television network that the Olmert government had offered the Palestinian a land exchange, which would see divided Arab communities become part of the future Palestinian state's sovereignty.

"The tsunami of anger has begun, and our protest here in Baqa al-Gharbiyye is part of our protest in Umm al-Fahm, Nazareth, Akko, Haifa, Jaffa and Rahat," stressed Sheikh Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement's northern branch.

"Whoever doesn't like it, can move somewhere else. We did not reach our lands after landing from another planet, but have been on our lands since the day we were born. We won't let anyone remove us from our place."

Despite reports that the Palestinian Authority rejected the offer out of hand, the rally's participants clarified that they viewed the initiative as a danger to their rights.

"In principle, we are against the idea of moving us to the territories, because we were born here and will die here," said Sabih Abu Mukh, head of Baqa al-Gharbiyye's popular committee. "The whole idea is unacceptable, and the Israeli government must seriously consider ways to bridge between the gaps and build the right relationship.

"I am telling the Israeli people – if you start these procedures with the Arab people, the haredim and Sephardim will come next," added Abu Mukh. "Every country must care for its citizens, and we won't be the guinea pigs of any politician with an idea.

"If (former Foreign Minister Tzipi) Livni's proposal is executed, we'll take steps acceptable in the democratic regime: We'll set the world on fire, because this is a red line as far as we are concerned, and the disaster of 1948 will not repeat itself."

'We won't agree to move to France either'

According to Knesset Member Hanin Zoabi (Balad), such a plan could only used to weaken the Arabs and has no other justification, as the settlements which the Arab communities will reportedly be replaced with are "illegitimate".

"This is a delusional plan. We are part of this country," she noted. "Everything public by al-Jazeera was known, and it's time for the Palestinian people to speak out and say that a general withdrawal from the territories annexed in 1967 is something which cannot be ceded."

Some of the protestors, however, doubt that the initiative is a reliable one. "We don't believe Baqa al-Gharbiyye will be moved to Palestinian rule. Everything said came from one side, and in my opinion this is a joke to test our reaction," estimated Mahmoud Moasi, secretary-general of the Arab Democratic Party.

"This is why I respond by saying that we are on our lands and don't fear any outcome. What we are talking about is not that we don't want to move to the territories, but that a state cannot remove citizens. We won't agree to move to France either."


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