Numerous rallies, parades and demonstrations were organised on Tuesday in Arab towns and villages in Israel to mark the prominent annual anniversary.

Land Day marks the 1976 Israeli killing of six Palestinians in northern Israel as they protested the confiscation of large swathes of Arab land.

One of the largest rallies took place in the northern Israeli town of Arrabeh, where one of the six youths was killed. 

There, speaker after speaker reiterated the all-too familiar demands of the Arab community in Israel, namely civil equality and an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

"This is an occasion to demonstrate the unity of the Arab community in Israel," said Adil Abu al-Haija, mayor of the town of Tamra.

He accused Israeli governments of denying the 1.3 million-strong Arab minority - about 20% of Israel’s population - equal rights granted to other Israeli citizens.

"There can be no real coexistence without equality before the law," he said.

Another large rally took place in the Galilee town of Kfar Kanna where demonstrators carried the portrait of Shaikh Raid Salah, the jailed leader of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

Palestinians shout anti-Israeli
slogans in a Gaza Strip protest

Israel is holding Salah and three of his colleagues without trial or charge for the last nine months for allegedly supporting anti-occupation attacks.

Palestinians say he provides relief material to impoverished Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Speaking during the rally, Shaikh Kamal al-Khatib, deputy-chief of the Islamic Movement, said there is an "absence of justice and equity in this state".

"In order to enjoy full equality in Israel, you’ve got to be a Jew. We are being discriminated against because of our religion."

The crux

Palestinian Knesset member Abd al-Malik Dahamshi lashed out at successive Israeli governments for "adopting a policy of dispossessing our people of their land".

"Land is the crux of the matter, and without our land, we can’t really realise our rights as citizens in this country."

Dahamshi also blasted the Sharon government for "tormenting and systematically persecuting the Palestinian people".

"Obviously, we can’t expect much from a government that supervises the killing of men, women and children. They don’t even spare the life of an old paralysed man," he said, alluding to the assassination of Hamas founder and spiritual leader Shaikh Ahmad Yasin last week.

Institutionalised discrimination

The Arab community in Israel has always been subjected to de-facto discrimination since the creation of Israel in 1948.

Israel's assassination of Hamas
leader Shaikh Yasin is still fresh

They are in many respects subjected to the same discrimination and brutal treatment experienced by their brethren across the Green Line since 1967.

This includes excessive land confiscation, rampant home demolitions, violent repression of peaceful demonstrations and arbitrary arrests.

According to the advocacy organisation for Israeli Arabs, Musawa, the Israeli authorities demolished as many as 340 Arab homes throughout Israel in 2003 and another 72 in the Negev region and 269 in the Triangle and Galilee regions.

A few weeks ago, Israeli planes sprayed large areas of Arab crops with pesticide, a recurrent measure aimed at driving farmers away from their land.

Danger?

In recent years, especially since Ariel Sharon's government took power three years ago, Israeli officials have escalated their verbal attacks on the Palestinian community.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu recently referred to the Arab minority’s high birth rate as "a danger to the Jewish nature of Israel".

Sharon himself suggested that the inhabitants of such Arab towns as Umm al-Fahm should be "transferred" to the West Bank to "sooth our demographic problem".

Eifi Eitam of the National Religious party and Benny Elon of the National Union have called for "ethnically cleansing the Arabs from the land of Israel".

Facing these worries, the leaders of the Arab community are trying to explore every conceivable avenue to consolidate their attachment to their ancestral homeland.

However, Israel's harsh response to the Intifada seems to have convinced many in the Arab community that they will not be able to obtain equality until Israel ends its occupation.