Every day is Land Day in Palestine

April 3, 2013

Patrick O. Strickland reports from Israel on a new round of Palestinian protests.

THOUSANDS OF Palestinians marked the 37th anniversary of Land Day on March 30 by protesting in villages and towns situated in the northern Galilee region, the Negev region in the South and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Land Day is an annual commemoration honoring the events of March 30, 1976, when thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel mobilized against Israel's decision to confiscate nearly 5,000 acres of land in the Arab-majority Galilee region in northern Israel. Roughly one-third of the land was privately owned by Palestinian citizens--the plan was understood as an attempt to break up Arab contiguity by inserting hastily erected Jewish settlements and further expanding military instillations.

Rejecting the state's crude plans to forcefully "Judaize the Galilee" and further entrench a Jewish ethno-theocracy, the Palestinian minority rose up, within the borders of Israel, and in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. In coordination with the military, some 4,000 police officers were dispatched to quell the unrest--six Palestinians were left dead and hundreds arrested and bloodied by the time dust settled.

Palestinian protesters march on Land Day
Palestinian protesters march on Land Day

During West Bank demonstrations on Saturday, Israeli occupation soldiers attempted to suppress dissent by raising clouds of tear gas wherever they could, indiscriminately firing rubber-coated bullets into crowds, and using live ammunition in some cases.

Soldiers injured several demonstrators during a march to the infamous Qalandia checkpoint from both sides, one stream from the West Bank town of Ramallah and another from Jerusalem. Palestinians were also injured in Bethlehem, Qalqilya, Gaza and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Arab villages and towns overflowed across Israel when Palestinian citizens rallied in commemoration of Land Day, as well as to oppose discriminatory land confiscation policies that continue to this day.

In Taybeh, hundreds rallied against recent policies that come at the expense of the village's land. A similar demonstration was staged in the Negev and drew the participation of around 1,000 people, both marking the annual protest and confronting the Israeli government's measures to remove Bedouin citizens from their land and relocate them to townships.

In Sakhnin alone, some 10,000 marched through the narrows streets and alleys before taking over the main square, where speeches honored Palestinian martyrs, past and present. Organizers delivered passionate addresses that called for solidarity with Palestinian prisoners--namely, hunger strikers such as Samer Al-Issawi, who has gone over 250 days without food in the face of being held behind bars on "secret evidence" without trial or charge.

Hanin Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset, declared:

Land Day is not an event that we remember, but rather it is the name of the main battle between us and the state. On Land Day [in 1976], the state explicitly declared that its main project is the Judaization of the land, and in so doing it declared itself to be an entity that is hostile and aggressive to the natives, the Palestinian citizens, and it is still so.

THE EVENTS of the first Land Day were not a spontaneous outburst. By 1976, Palestinian citizens of Israel had been toiling under three decades of home and land confiscations, forced dispossession and repressive internal policies, including 19 years under a particularly repressive form of martial law.

According to Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, "Israel had already confiscated 75,000 dunams [around 18,500 acres] during the previous decade--and this of course was after most of the Palestinian lands were lands in the 1948 ethnic cleansing."

Despite cosmetic nods in the direction of peace, little has changed over the last three decades. Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line are humbled by the same racist policies and kept apart by bureaucratic means that serve the end of dividing and ruling the oppressed. Indeed, for Palestinians, every day is Land Day.

According to the Israeli Committee against Housing Demolitions, more than 24,000 homes were destroyed by Israeli forces in the Occupied Territories between 1967 and 2009. In the first three months of 2013 alone, 155 Palestinian "structures" have been demolished in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, displacing an estimated 309 people.

In 2011, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Israel to abandon practices that target Palestinian citizens of Israel. Through discriminatory housing and permit procedures, HRW stated, the state destroyed Arab homes while simultaneously exempting most of their Jewish compatriots.

Since September 2011, the government has been implementing the "Prawer Plan" in the Negev region, which aims to confiscate land from Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and relocate them to eight townships. According to the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, over 1,000 homes were demolished in the first year alone. Additionally, "if fully implemented, [the] plan will result in the displacement of up to 70,000 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel and the destruction of 35 'unrecognized' villages."

Ironically, these villages--denied basic services, such as roads, education and water because they are considered illegal--either predate the state of Israel or were established by Israeli military order during the 1950s.

AS ALWAYS, any form of resistance--peaceful or not, on either side of the Green Line--to Israel's institutionalized racism and ethnic cleansing policies is guaranteed to be met with state-sanctioned violence.

As the Netanyahu regime--which recently survived a close election--backed by a parliament of settlers and hard-liners, intensifies the colonial settler project, Palestinian activists in Israel and the Occupied Territories have redoubled their efforts.

Chief among these valiant efforts has been the strategy of staking out land slated for Jewish settlement. In January, activists set up 25 tents in the keystone E1 area of the West Bank and declared the village of Bab Al-Shams. Within 48 hours, some 200 unarmed activists were attacked and expelled or arrested by a cohort of 500 heavily armed soldiers.

As Abir Kopty of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee said in an interview:

Bab Al-Shams was not an outbreak of popular resistance. It is a natural development of the long history of Palestinian popular resistance. Since Bab Al-Shams, there have been more than four local initiatives--most of them staged by the PSCC--in which residents followed the same model to protect their lands from confiscation and colonization...

It was effective in breaking through the apathy of Palestinians and giving hope and inspiration. Popular resistance is expanding and growing wider. However, if we stop here, it won't be effective. The task is to continue to challenge the occupation and find new strategies to protect our land.

Since its destruction, five similar protest villages were erected, including one on the day that Barack Obama arrived in Israel last month to reassure the U.S. empire's favored ally that their colonial interests would be secured to the tune of $3 billion in U.S. taxpayers' money each year.

Elsewhere, internal refugees from Iqrit, a village demolished by the Israeli military in 1951 despite a court ruling in the residents' favor, exercised their right of return and camped out on their ancestral lands for the past six months.

Israel has responded harshly. According to Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, at least seven Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have been killed by live ammunition thus far in 2013. The latest, 23-year-old Mohammed Asfour, died on March 7 as a result of being "shot in the head with a rubber-coated metal bullet" two weeks earlier.

"Israel's response to nonviolent demonstrations has grown increasingly aggressive," Rima Awad, director of the Coalition for Jerusalem, said in an interview. "February 2013 was one of the most violent in recent history in terms of injuries, resulting in over 700 at protests."

As Israel supplements its brutal crackdown with an acceleration of settlement expansion, popular resistance continues to blossom, whether in the form of local initiatives or more traditional forms of protest such as Land Day.

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