Some 500 people gathered Saturday in a village in the northern district of Israel to protest the state's prosecution's the indictment of 12 Israeli Arabs for lynching an Israeli soldier after he opened fire on a bus and killed four people in a deadly rampage in 2005.
Palestinians, Knesset members and Arab mayors protested the decision to indict 12 Israeli Arabs in the northern village of Shfaram.
"This is an expression of anger and protest," said Nahed Hazam, the mayor of the town who helped organize the sit-in, as protestors waved Palestinian flags and signs denouncing the "horrible massacre" four years ago.
Hazam said equality and justice were very much at stake for Arab Israelis many of whom joined the rally along with prominent groups such as the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee and the Committee of Local Arab leaders.
"We are striving for a different atmosphere and for equality of rights in our just cause," Nehad Hazam was quoted in Ynet.
The 12 were indicted earlier this month for their role in the lynching. Seven were charged with attempted murder and five with other crimes including obstruction of justice, assault on police and rioting.
In August 2005 an Israeli Jewish soldier, Eden Natan Zada, opened fire with his automatic rifle on a bus in Shfaram, killing four people and wounding more than 20.
Zada, a far-right activist virulently opposed to the withdrawal of soldiers and settlers from Gaza that was then under way, was beaten to death by an angry mob following his shooting spree.
Nisrin Turki, whose two sisters were shot dead on the bus, said she attended the demonstration to protest the "oppression" suffered by Israel's 1.2 million Arab citizens.
"As Arabs, it is impossible for us to be happy," she said. "The (Israeli) authorities only bring us sorrow and agony."
Demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and signs in Hebrew and Arabic with "one murderer, but many criminals," and "Shfaram demands the aTtorney Geenral close the cases and arrest the real murderers," written on them.
"All the Arab citizens of Israel are united in our struggle, because it is clear to all of them that we are the victim and those who support Zada are the real murderers," Jamil Safuri, one of the 12 indicted men, was quoted as saying.
The High Follow-up Committee, the main representative organization for Arabs in Israel, has accused Israel's judiciary of going after "the victims of the massacre instead of the Israeli policies that have inspired these criminals."
Jamal Zahalka, chairman of the Arab Israeli political party Balad, said Israeli security and police were hiding information on the case. "After the murder there was a promise to investigate the case seriously," Zahalka told Ynet. "The indictments must be dismissed because this was a case of self-defense," he added.
Israel's Arab community makes up around 20 percent of the country's population of seven million. It is descended from the 160,000 Palestinians who remained in the Jewish state after its creation in 1948.