Palestinians gear up for Land Day

On Saturday, thousands of Palestinians plan to protest on anniversary of Israeli land confiscation in Galilee region.

Land Day Qalandiya
More than 100 people were injured during Land Day protests last year at the Qalandia checkpoint [AFP]

Ramallah, West Bank – Palestinians in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories, and abroad are gearing up to commemorate Land Day on Saturday.

Land Day is held on the anniversary of March 30, 1976, when Palestinian villages and cities across the country witnessed mass demonstrations against the state’s plans to expropriate 2,000 hectares of land in Israel’s Galilee region. In coordination with the military, some 4,000 police officers were dispatched to quell the unrest. At the end of the day, six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by state security forces.

On Saturday, buses will shuttle activists from around the country to two central rallies, one in southern Israel’s Negev region and the other in Sakhnin in the northern Galilee.

Raja Zaatry of the Hirak Center for Higher Education in Arab Society said local activities are scheduled to take place in Arab villages and towns across Israel, in coordination with similar protests in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Protests are also expected in the Gaza Strip.

Groups across the country have been engaged in Land Day preparations for weeks. “Last week in Arab schools, we staged lessons about Land Day and Palestinian history because they’re not part of the official curriculum from the Israeli Ministry of Education,” Zaatry said.

 Israeli army clashes with Palestinians on Land Day

“In Haifa, for instance, there are cultural activities scheduled in the Wadi al-Nisnas neighborhood. There will be a movie screening about Land Day. Last week in schools, we held events for the children to learn about Land Day and the history because it is not part of the official curriculum from the Israeli ministry.”

On Land Day 2012, Al Jazeera reported that at least 121 people were injured at the Qalandia checkpoint near Jerusalem when Israeli forces used water cannons, tear gas, and rubber-coated bullets to push protesters back to nearby Ramallah, in the West Bank.

All eyes on Jerusalem

This year, civil society groups and political factions have coordinated to orchestrate a two-pronged march to Qalandia checkpoint, one beginning in Ramallah and the other in Jerusalem. Other protests will take place across the city, notably in frequently raided neighborhoods like Silwan and at the Red Cross offices. In Jerusalem alone, the number of Palestinian and international participants is expected to be in the hundreds, estimated Rima Awad of the Jerusalem Coalition.

In 2012, activists staged a “Global March” on Jerusalem, which grabbed the attention of the international community. Although there is no such march planned for this year, activists and organisers expect to draw attention about the increasingly difficult situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“Land Day 2012 was successful in generating international awareness about Palestinian land confiscation and Israel’s human rights violations,” Awad said. “[T]he march to Jerusalem was a global effort revolving around Land Day and drew global attention. We hope and expect that this pattern of growth will continue.”

Although Israel maintains that Jerusalem in its entirety will remain part of the Jewish state in any potential peace deal, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution last November that recognised East Jerusalem as the capital of a sovereign Palestinian state.

A uniting event

The annual commemorations of Land Day have become part of a Palestinian collective consciousness, touching those in Israel and the diaspora as well as in the occupied territories.

“Historically, Land Day was a very important turning point in the lives of Palestinians after the Nakba, especially those who remained in the Israeli state,” said Abir Kopty of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.

Marking Land Day has brought Palestinians “from a phase [in which] they had lost their country, two-thirds of the population, about 500 villages, and all their political and cultural leaders [who] were driven out to a phase where they raised up their heads and clashed with the state that committed their catastrophe”, Kopty said.

As a tragedy that originally affected only Palestinian citizens of Israel, Land Day is a form of assertion, Kopty added, “by all Palestinians in [the 1967 Territories], refugee camps, and the diaspora… so it’s a national uniting event to all Palestinians”.

Kopty’s comments were echoed by Zaatry, who said that Palestinians, despite geographical divides, “face the same struggle in the end – it’s the same conflict over land”.

Land Day holds a particular significance for Israel’s Palestinian minority, where activists charge the government with trying to pressure them to abandon their Palestinian identity. “We see our citizenship in Israel as one of our rights as the native people. We don’t accept Israel’s forcing us to choose between being Israeli or Palestinian,” Zaatry said.

A global day of action

“Israel’s response to non-violent demonstrations has grown increasingly aggressive.”

– Rima Awad, Jerusalem Coalition

In 2012, Land Day protests were staged in 23 countries across the world, said Zaid Shuaibi, spokesperson for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee, the broad coalition of Palestinian organisations that leads and supports the BDS movement.

“Each year, BDS campaigners mark Land Day with a global day of action,” Shuaibi said. “This year there will be a series of actions and events to protest international support for Israel’s theft of Palestinian land, particularly the role of the Jewish National Fund and international trade with Israeli agricultural export companies, both of which directly participate in the appropriation of Palestinian land and resources. Land Day will also be marked with a demonstration and a day of solidarity activities at the World Social Forum, currently taking place in Tunis.”

In recent months, the increasing frequency of protests in the occupied West Bank have led many to speculate about the prospect of a third “intifada”, or uprising. Many activists said they expect Israel to respond with force.

Israel’s response to non-violent demonstrations has grown increasingly aggressive,” said Awad. “February 2013 was one of the most violent in recent history in terms of injuries…we expect Israel to respond with the same disproportionate use of force as it has been.”

The Israeli military spokeswoman said the armed forces refused to comment, though noted that the police will deploy several hundred officers in Israel’s northern region to patrol protests.

Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said security measures are the same for Land Day each year.

Source: Al Jazeera