Palestinians in Israel and Gaza Commemorate the 44th Land Day

Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel commemorated the 44th Land Day on Saturday, March 30, a day they have been observing since that date in 1976 (the first Land Day), when Israeli security forces shot dead six young Arab men who were protesting the expropriation of Arab-owned land in northern Israel to build Jewish communities.

Head of the Higher Follow-up Committee of the Arab Citizens in Israel and former Hadash MK, Mohammed Barakeh and Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen during the Land Day commemoration, on Saturday, March 20, in Sakhnin

Head of the Higher Follow-up Committee of the Arab Citizens in Israel and former Hadash MK, Mohammed Barakeh and Hadash MK Yousef Jabareen during the Land Day commemoration, on Saturday, March 20, in Sakhnin (Photo: Al Ittihad)

Thousands marched through the rain in a procession late Saturday afternoon in the Arab city of Sakhnin in northern Israel. During the gathering that followed, MK Ayman Odeh, Chairman of Hadash, said “Gaza is under siege. The humanitarian crisis is worsening and the Palestinian people have a right to claim their place in the world.” Odeh said that the people of Gaza cannot be broken and no weapon can solve the situation, adding that racism and incitement against Arab citizens is growing under Netanyahu’s government.

Four Palestinians Dead, Hundreds Wounded in Gaza

In Gaza, Land Day also commemorated the first anniversary of the beginning of the weekly Great March of Return, the first of which was held of March 30, 2018. Since then more than 200 Palestinians from Gaza have been killed and tens of thousands have been wounded and or injured by live and crowd dispersing fire by Israeli military forces. News about the fatal shooting of four more Palestinians by Israeli forces during Saturday’s Land Day protests along the Gaza border hit the front pages of the three Arabic Palestinian dailies on Sunday.

Al-Hayat al-Jadida, al-Ayyam and al-Quds reported that three Palestinian minors were killed and over 250 others were wounded or otherwise injured on Saturday as thousands of Palestinians gathered at the eastern border of the Gaza Strip to mark the 43rd anniversary of the first Land Day and the first anniversary of the Great March of Return. The three minors who were fatally shot were Adham Amara, Tamer Abu al-Kheir, and Bilal Mahmoud al-Najjar. A fourth Palestinian, Jihad Jawad Sa’ad, 21, was killed in a clash with Israeli military forces east of Gaza on Friday night.

The three Palestinians newspapers also highlighted President Mahmoud Abbas’ statement on the anniversary of Land Day. Abbas said that Palestinian state to be founded on the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital will only be for the Palestinians (i.e., no Israeli settlers will remain in that territory), and such a free and independent Palestinian state is inevitable. “The suffering of our people over 100 years and the enormous sacrifices made by this great people will not be in vain,” he said.

Background of Land Day

In 1976, the government of Israel declared its intention to expropriate some 20,000 dunams of lands in the Galilee (2,000 hectares, or approximately 5,000 acres), of land between the Arab cities of Sakhnin and Arabeh. Of the land to be appropriated, approximately 6,300 dunams were privately owned by Arab residents of the area. On March 11, 1976, the government published the expropriation plan.

The governmental decision to confiscate the land was accompanied by the declaration of a curfew to be imposed on the villages of Sakhnin, Arabeh, Deir Hanna, Tu’ran, Tamra and Kabul, effective from 17:00 on March 29, 1976. Following a decision by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Israel, local Arab leaders called for a day of general strikes and mass protests against the confiscation of lands on the following day, March 30. The mayor of Nazareth, the communist Tawfiq Ziad, was among the local Arab leaders who made such a call.

The government declared all demonstrations illegal and threatened to dismiss from their jobs any “agitators,” such as schoolteachers, who encouraged their students to participate. However, the threats were not effective, and many teachers led their pupils out of the classrooms to join the general strike and marches that took place throughout the Arab towns in Israel.

Once again, during the demonstrations that took place on that March 30 forty-three years ago, six Arab-Palestinians citizens of Israel were killed, over a hundred were wounded, and hundreds more were arrested. In the wake of the first Land Day, the Communist Party of Israel and other progressive forces founded the Hadash electoral movement leading up to the 1977 general elections. Ever since then, Hadash – the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality – has been active and in 2015 was instrumental in the founding of the Joint List which garnered 13 seats in the 20ath Knesset. Towards the general elections for the 21st Knesset to be held on April 9, Hadash is aligned with Ta’al (The Arab Movement for Change).