'We people are not afraid to die'

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The Independent Online

Apart from his name, there are two things that strike you about Nakad Nakad. The first is his warmth, and the second is the speed with which he acquaints you with his wound. The handshakes were barely over before he had hoisted his trouser leg to reveal a nasty-looking purple welt on his calf, the size of a tea crumpet.

Apart from his name, there are two things that strike you about Nakad Nakad. The first is his warmth, and the second is the speed with which he acquaints you with his wound. The handshakes were barely over before he had hoisted his trouser leg to reveal a nasty-looking purple welt on his calf, the size of a tea crumpet.

"Police rubber bullet," he says. "We were doing nothing, just standing in the street, and suddenly - pow, pow, pow - the police went crazy."

Mr Nakad is an Israeli Arab, or as they prefer to be known, a Palestinian who holds Israeli citizenship. There are 1.1m of them in Israel's 6.2m population, a minority not to be confused with the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza.

The former live inside Israel, passport holders with the right to vote; the latter are struggling to persuade the Israelis to return enough of their territory, occupied since 1967, for them to create a state of their own.

I had gone to see Nakad Nakad because he is active in Arab politics, the leader of the student branch of Habash party and he was involved in clashes with the police this summer. For days, reports had been circulating in the Israeli media that the Israeli Arab population was growing increasingly angry and militant. He warned trouble was looming, and it turns out - months later - he was spot on.

Um al-Fahm is a town of 35,000 Arabs just inside the pre-1967 Israeli border. Mohammed Ahmad Jabarin, a 24-year-old journalist, said: "The main problem is that we feel we have no status in the Jewish state as Arabs. They have confiscated our land, and demolished our houses which they say we build without permits. But we don't know where we stand under Jewish law." And yet they know their civil rights, political influence - they have 10 Knesset members - and welfare benefits could prove even less under the autocratic rule of Yasser Arafat.

But the issue is about identity and dignity, and ethnicity. Most Israeli Arabs are Muslims. When Ariel Sharon set foot on their holy sites in Jerusalem last week, he triggered forces with roots deep in history and religion. Some have been radicalised by it.

"We people are not afraid to die," said Mohammed. "We are not afraid of the Israelis. If one us dies we know it is for our holy sites, and our women will bring babies to replace us."

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