Around 20,000 people participated in the Land Day rally in Sakhnin on Saturday, and around 1,000 came to the main event in the south of Israel, a march in the vicinity of the unrecognized Arab-Bedouin village al-Sayed and protest against the Prawer plan, which calls for eviction and relocating tens of thousands of Negev Bedouin from unrecognized villages.
Figures in the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, an umbrella organization that includes most political parties and movements in Israel’s Arab national minority, called for the expansion of the territorial jurisdiction of the country’s Arab communities, most of which suffer from overcrowding and have little available land for new construction. Also on the agenda was the denunciation of incidents of anti-Arab bigotry and calls for the release of Palestinian prisoners incarcerated in Israel, especially older prisoners. In a press release the committee said Land Day in 2013 is not substantively different from Land Day in 1976, adding, “the Israeli government continues to take more and more land from the Arab public,” first in the Galilee and in the Triangle – an area in central Israel, roughly bounded by the Arab towns of Baka al-Garbiyeh, Taybeh and Tira – and now in the Negev.
Participating in the Sakhnin rally were hundreds of activists from human and civil rights groups, including a delegation from the unrecognized Bedouin village al-Arakib north of Be’er Sheva. Participants waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and Israel’s expropriation of Palestinian land. The chairman of Hadash (Democratic Front for Peace and Equality – Communist Party of Israel), MK Mohammed Barakeh, said the 37th annual Land Day comes at a time of the Israeli establishment’s escalation of its battle for what remains of the land of the state’s Arab citizens, particularly in the Negev, in addition to the land shortage in the Arab villages in the Galilee and the Triangle. “We are on the border, and before reaching a deterioration in relations between the state and the Arab citizens with regard to land reserves, I call for a popular struggle, to be headed by the Arab local government heads, on behalf of the expansion of the master plans; at the end of the day the state is not doing a favor when it expands these communities, but rather restoring, if only to a small extent, that which was expropriated over the course of many years,” MK Barakeh said.
Land Day activities began earlier this week in certain Arab communities as well as mixed Arab and Jewish cities such as Jaffa and Acre. Thousands of people, including Hadash Knesset members, took part in a rally in Taybeh on Friday for Land Day.
A group of protesters in Sakhnin attacked an Al Jazeera reporter claiming that his coverage of the conflict in Syria was “slanted and anti-Assad.” The reporter, Alias Kram, a resident of Nazareth sustained light injuries in the attack. MK Barakeh and other Hadash activists helped the news crew escape to a nearby house. Ramiz Jaraisy, a leading member of Hadash and the mayor of Nazareth who is also the chairman of the committee of Arab local authorities strongly condemned the attack, saying that it merely detracted from the main event.
Land Day commemorates the death of six Palestinian protesters at the hands of Israeli forces during mass demonstrations in 1976 against plans to confiscate Arab-Palestinian land in northern Israel. The government decision to confiscate the land was accompanied by the declaration of a curfew to be imposed on the villages of Sakhnin, Arraba, De’ir Hanna, Tur’an and Kabul, effective from 5 p.m. on March 29, 1976. Communist Arab leaders, such as the later Tawfiq Ziad, the first communist mayor of Nazareth, responded by calling for a day of general strike, upon a decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and protests against the confiscation of lands to be held on March 30. The government declared all demonstrations illegal and threatened to fire activists, such as schoolteachers who encouraged their students to participate in the demonstrations.