Land Day: A Day of Commemoration

By Laura Fawaz, TMO

Land_Day_#1_(Reuters)March 30th marks the annual commemoration for Palestinians of Land Day, for the events that took place on March 30th of 1976.

On that day, the Israeli government’s announcement of a plan to seize thousands of dunams, villages where residing Palestinian families still lived, for “security and settlement purposes.”

As for the 2012 commemoration, it turned violent with Israeli forces, again this year, firing tear gas at protesting Palestinians.  It also reported that there were close to 1,000 protestors gathered in Ramallah, and that five medical workers were shot with rubber-coated bullets, and that one car was set ablaze.  Palestinian activists called for a “Global March to Jerusalem” to mark the day when Palestinians protest against government policies that they say has stripped them of their land.  Witnesses also reported disturbances at gates leading into the Old City, with police limiting access to the Muslims’ revered al-Aqsa Mosque.

During the protests, four unarmed demonstrators were shot dead by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and two more by police.  The New York Times reports that the killings carried out by police during “riots in the Galilee region to protest over Israeli expropriation of Arab land.”

Jerusalem is a focal point of conflict, as Palestinians want the city’s eastern sector, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, as capital of a future state.  Six UN Security Council resolutions have denounced, declaring Israel’s control of the city to be invalid.  “We are determined to march together toward Jerusalem, and hopefully we will break through and reach it,” said a masked youth, calling himself Rimawi, as he faced off against soldiers in Ramallah.

Background: Adopted by the Israeli government in 1950 was the Law of Return.  This is Israeli legislation that was passed on July 5th of that year, giving Jews the right to “return” as an Israeli citizen and immediately having a settlement to call home.  Then in 1970, this right of entry, along with the new settlement, was extended to people of Jewish ancestry and their spouses.  Also, there was a new Absentee’s Property Law, which meant that the property rights of “absentee owners” were now transferred to a government-appointed “Custodian of Absentee Property.”  What this meant was that the newly welcomed citizens were given the homes of those Palestinians who either expelled from the area, their homeland that was taken and became Israel in 1948, or fled from the danger.  This legalized the confiscation of lands belonging to the Palestinian refugees, and was also used to confiscate the lands of Palestinians who “are present inside the state, yet classified in law as ‘absent’.”

Oren Yiftachel is a professor of political geography, urban planning and public policy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Israel.  He writes that the land confiscations and expansion of Jewish settlements in the northern Galilee formed part of the government’s continuing strategy aimed at the Judaization of the Galilee.  In executing this plan, the Ministry of Agriculture openly declared that its “primary purpose was to alter the demographic nature of Galilee in order to create a Jewish majority in the area.” 

The government’s decision to confiscate the land in addition came with the announcement of a curfew to be imposed on the villages of Sakhnin, Arraba, Deir Hanna, Tur’an, Tamra, and Kabul, effective from 5 p.m. on March 29th, 1976.  This was one of the many tactics to drive away the Palestinians in the remaining Palestinian cities.  Local Arab leaders from the Rakah party, such as Tawfiq Ziad, who was elected mayor of Nazareth on December 9th, 1973, responded by calling for a day of general strikes and protests against the confiscation of lands to be held the next day, on March 30th.  Even though the government declared all demonstrations illegal, solidarity strikes were also held almost simultaneously in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and in most of the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.


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