In the past few days, the talk in the Israeli Arab community has focused less on what has been happening in the Gaza Strip and more on internal affairs, in particular the long-awaited

outcome of the inquiry by the Justice Ministry's Police Investigations Unit into the deaths of 13 Arabs during the rioting in October 2000.

The probe found that in some of the incidents, police firing violated the law but that, from a legal point of view, the inquiry team decided it could not bring a case against any of the policemen involved. It was decided to close all the files.

The decision prompted an outcry among Israeli Arab leaders and the families of the victims, particularly those who apparently were shot dead without reason.

The plea of the families that justice be done and not just be seen to be done was perfectly understandable under the circumstances, as well as the questions over whether the same conclusions would have been reached had the victims been stone-throwing, road-blocking Jews.

The question, however, is where this issue, which has been on the back burner for the past five years despite the findings and recommendations of the Or Commission, will go from here and how it will affect the delicate fabric of Jewish-Arab relations.

According to observers, it can go either way. It could lead to renewed outbreaks of violence or, at the very least, to yet more attempts to raise the matter in international courts of law.

The latter is one of the options espoused by Israeli Arab leaders if they believe that the justice system here has failed to "bring the murderers to trial."

The monitoring committee of the Israeli Arab leadership is to decide soon how to mark the fifth anniversary of the riots.

One of the proposals calls for a general strike of the entire Arab community. A general strike was declared at the same time five years ago to protest against what was described as Israel's atrocities against the Palestinians at the beginning of the so-called Aksa intifada.

The outcome of that decision is known only too well rioting Israeli Arabs blocked main roads; hurled rocks and stones at passing cars; set up road blocks, especially in the North; and made liberal use of firebombs and other weapons to which the police, with minimal forces on the ground, were forced to respond.

The Arab community, however, maintains that had the security forces reacted in the same manner that they treated Jewish extremists who blocked roads, breached the peace, broke the rules of law and order and generally tried to prevent police from carrying out their duties, there would not have been any fatalities.

The immediate reaction on the part of the families of the victims and the Israeli Arab leadership to the decision by the Police Investigations Unit was that there is one law for Jews and another for Arabs.

"I assume that some of those in the Arab sector who closely followed the expected implementation of the Or Commission's recommendations were not entirely surprised by this decision," said Dr. Elie Rekhess, head of Tel Aviv University's Konrad Adenauer Program for Jewish-Arab Cooperation.

"Despite that, many of them were still hopeful that those responsible for the killings would be brought to justice," he told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

Prof. Shimon Shamir, a member of the Or Commission, is to address the issues at a special seminar hosted by the Adenauer Foundation at the university on Monday evening.

Rekhess noted that feelings among Israeli Arabs over the past few days, following press reports that charges were unlikely to be filed against members of the security forces or political leaders, were those of frustration, pain and alienation.

"The Arab community in general and the families of the victims in particular feel that the decision of the police investigations unit puts the blame on the victims and that this is both cynical and improper," he said. "Harsher statements allude to the feeling that the blood of Arabs is less significant than the blood of Jews, and this raises concern over the potential repercussions of the decision."

Rekhess, who is also a consultant to the Abraham Fund for Jewish-Arab coexistence, expressed the hope that relations between Jews and Arabs that had slowly been rebuilt since the events of October 2000 would not be harmed.

"There is an urgent need for a full clarification and explanation of the differences between the Or Commission's conclusions and those of the Police Investigations Unit," he said.

"The government can help soften what Israeli Arabs perceive as being a blow by trying to reestablish trust in the establishment through confidence-building measures, and particularly by dealing with the needs of the Arab community.

"Even though there are some isolated elements in the Arab sector that do not exclude the possibility of renewed violence, I believe that the lessons learned from the events of October 2000 will prevent extreme reactions from both the Arab and Jewish sides," he said.