"There are those counting Knesset seats in exchange for bodies," Knesset Member Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) accused the Israeli leadership, after the premiership candidates slammed the Arab sector's condemnation of Operation Cast Lead.
"One cannot compare between those who have predatory power and those who have primitive power," said Tibi. "As a humane person, I oppose targeting civilians wherever they are. Naturally, however, every time an Arab is injured it hurts me more because we are members of the same nation.
"All we're saying is to spare human life, and no to war. In two weeks negotiations will be launched on a truce agreement. Why not start it immediately, now, while opening the crossings?
"But there are those who won't to burn a sense of defeat in the Palestinians' cognition. This is the Israeli army's school. And what can we do? We're on the eve of elections. There are those who are counting bodies while counting Knesset seats. Is there anything crueler?"
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said during the meeting, "On my way here I heard that Hamas declared the man killed by a rocket in Ashkelon 'one of the Zionists' despite being an Israeli Arab. They don't make a distinction, and neither should we."
"The leadership has the power and responsibility to do what is right even if the public opinion is different, and this time is a time of examination as to what is right," Livni noted, stressing that the diplomatic process must continue alongside an all-out-war on Hamas and the terror organizations.
"And this is also an examination for the Arab leadership in the State of Israel. You are leading the Arab public on a thin rope. You cannot cross the line between right and wrong, between legitimate and illegitimate, between what is right and what is misleading. This is not a choice between being Arabs and supporting the Jews."
Scene of Ashkelon rocket attack (Photo: ZAKA)
The Balad faction boycotted the Knesset session, which it said was being used "as a stage for incitement and for dancing on Palestinian blood".
The party said in a statement that "the parties are taking advantage of the Knesset stage for cheap election propaganda at the expense of the war crimes taking place in Gaza."
'How many more wars on the menu?'
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert boycotted the special session, and the central stage was occupied by Opposition Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, who expressed his support for the government's policy and was disrupted repeatedly by Arab MKs.
"There's no other nation which would restrain itself for so long, too long," said Netanyahu. "Olmert did the right thing when he decided to move to an active offensive. Our power of deterrence will be restored when we adopt a systematic policy of war on terror and when we consistently collect a price from our enemies for crossing these lines. The Hamas missile threat can be eliminated.
"Not every civilian must support any government decision, but it's intolerable when they support our enemies. When the IDF fights Hamas' war criminals and our soldiers endanger themselves, they wave the Hamas flags.
"Enough is enough. To Israel's Arabs I say: Renounce the extremists. And to the extremists I say: Beware, we will use an iron fist against the Hamas supporters among us."
Netanyahu called on the prime minister to immediately fire Minister Raleb Majadele, who boycotted Sunday's cabinet meeting over the Gaza operation.
"A minister in Israel must serve the State of Israel and represent it. He is not entitled to boycott the government," he said.
MK Talab El-Sana shouted at him, "Are you declaring war on the Arab public?"
Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman called the Arab MKs "traitors". MK Barakeh was later removed from the Knesset plenum, but when he returned he said, "They're using Palestinian blood for political purposes."
Barak: We're doing what Obama said
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that the operation had been planned for a long time, but stressed, "We know reality will never be similar to planning. It won't be simple, there will be complications, but the preparations were conducted seriously. This operation will be expanded and deepened as much as needed."
He said he did not regret one day of the half-year truce with Hamas, and repeated the message that he is not eager to go to war but that the time to act has come.
"In his visit to Sderot, (US President-elect) Barack Obama said that if someone had been launching rockets at his home he would do anything to stop him. That's what we're doing. We want peace. We extended a hand to the Palestinian people more than once.
"We have nothing against Gaza's resident, but we have an all-out-war against Hamas. They are deliberately firing at civilians. We are looking for terrorists and trying not to hurt civilians."
Elaborating on the operation's goals, the defense minister said, "We launched it in order to hit Hamas hard and cause it to stop its actions against Israel's citizens and lead to a change in the situation in the south."
He noted that Israel left the Gaza Strip three years ago "and gave a chance to a different reality. We have since seen the Hamas government in Gaza and a rain of rockets. This is a situation no sovereign state can accept and we won't accept it. We have the right and duty to defend our citizens."
Sharon Roffe-Ofir contributed to this report