Reports in the Arabic-language press on Monday that Raed Salah, head of the northern branch of the Israeli-Arab Islamic Movement, had been seriously wounded sparked widespread anger among the country’s Arab minority – some 20 per cent of the population.
IDF officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Haaretz that Salah was alive – but offered no other details on his condition.
Salah’s deputy, Kamel Khatib, said in a radio interview that there was still no clear indication of Salah’s state. Khatib said that if emerged Salah had been killed, Israel would be directly responsible.
Local authorities in Arab-populated areas in Israel on Monday declared a general strike for the following day.
Israeli-Arab leaders condemned Israel’s handling of the interception.
Knesset member Mohammed Barakeh offered sardonic praise for the government, congratulating Defense Minister Ehud Barak on his “decisive victory of the army of pirates over the flotilla of civil liberty”.
Barakeh added: “Any government that puts itself outside international and humanitarian law will consign itself to the garbage can of history.
MK Taleb al-Sana said the operation had “exposed the ugly face of Zionism, the violence and aggression of the government of Israel”. Sana described the interception as an act of state terror against a humanitarian mission and called for Israel’s leaders to be tried for war crimes.
“This event proves you don’t have to be a German to be a Nazi,” he said.
By lunchtime, police were preparing for disturbances in Arab-majority districts in the north of the country, as well as around the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the harbor at Ashdod and hospitals across the country where casualties are being treated.
“At this moment we have to act with restraint and complete control, so as not to inflame the situation needlessly,’ said police commander David Cohen.
The internal security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovitch, also held emergency planning meetings with police, saying that while he hope to maintain calm, law enforcement agencies were prepared for any eventually.
The Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, which represents Israel Arab minority, called on Israeli forces to stay out of Arab areas so as not to provoke violence.
“The government of Israel and the police carry responsibility for the safety of Arab citizens that will demand the right to protest against the police of the government and defense ministry that was carrying a message of peace to Gaza.”
Before the Freedom Flotilla set sail, Sheikh Salah spoke to Al Jazeera:
The official Arab role in this campaign is missing but that of the Arab people is not. We have campaigners coming from Kuwait, Jordan and Mauritania, Yemen and Algeria and that is a message we sent to the leaders. How beautiful it would be if you would reconcile with the stance of your people in their support of the cause of the Palestinians.