Friday, March 30, 2012

Day of the Land

LAND DAY poster (1984) by Abdel Rahman Al Muzain

ON a day of protest which has seen clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Jerusalem and several other places, the news of Israeli state and government plans and projects both justifies the protests and shows the issue at the heart of this conflict. Not religion, not the "clash of cultures", not irrational hatreds stirred up by "extremists", but the land itself and the right of people to live on, and cultivate it, as generations have done, and not become refugees.

March 30 is Yawm al Ard, the Day of the Land, commemorating the day in 1976 when six young Palestinians were gunned down by Israeli forces sent to crush protests against expropriation of Arab land in the north of the country for Jewish-only towns and settlements.

This day has been remembered ever since, but has not just become history. The issue remains topical, as shown by the housing grabs and evictions steadfastly resisted in Jerusalem, and the harassment and 'ethnic cleansing' of Bedouin, but also by the completion of Israel's so-called security fence which effectively annexes Palestinian land. With this comes news of military plans earmarking ten per cent of the West Bank for more settlements.

"The state has argued before the Supreme Court and the International Court of Justice in The Hague that the route of the separation barrier was based on Israel’s security needs. But Civil Administration’s maps and figures, disclosed here for the first time, suggest the barrier route was planned in accordance with the available land in the West Bank, intended to increase the area and population of the settlements.

A total of 569 parcels of land were marked out, encompassing around 620,000 dunams ‏(around 155,000 acres‏) − about 10 percent of the total area of the West Bank. Since the late 1990s, 23 of the unauthorized outposts were built on land included in the map. The Civil Administration is endeavoring to legalize some of these outposts, including Shvut Rahel, Rehelim and Hayovel.

Etkes believes this indicates the settlers who built the outposts had access to the administration’s research on available land ..."

This is the continuation of an ongoing process.

The victims back in 1976 were Palestians who lived not in the occupied territories but within the State of Israel, of which they were citizens. Military Government in Israel's Arab areas had come to an end, but not the inequality of Arab citizens, their liability to be told where they could not work or live, and the likelihood of state forces opening fire on those who protest or resist.

There are today over 1.6 million of these Israeli Arabs, or Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, 20.5 per cent of the population, Land Day victims were not Palestinians from the occupied territories, but citizens of the state, a group that now numbers over 1.6 million people, or 20.5 percent of the population. They can vote, and be elected to the knesset, and may be largely better off than those under occupation. But any pretence that they can expect equal rights as citizens is belied when the Israeli government and its backers insist as a condition for peace on not just ordinary recognition, but recognition as a "Jewish and democratic" state.

What happened 36 years ago was that responding to Israel’s announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of acres of Palestinian land for “security and settlement purposes,” a general strike and marches were organized in Palestinian towns within Israel, from the Galilee to the Negev. The night before, the government imposed a curfew, effective from 5pm on March 29, 1976, on the Palestinian villages of Sakhnin, Arraba, Deir Hanna, Tur’an, Tamra and Kabul, in the Western Galilee.

The mayor of Nazareth, Tewfik Zayyad, a leading figure in the Communist Party, led the call for a general strike. The government declared all demonstrations illegal and threatened to fire 'agitators', such as schoolteachers who encouraged their students to participate, from their jobs. The threats were not effective, however, and many teachers led their students out of the classrooms to join the general strike and marches that took place. There were solidarity strikes and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza, and in the refugee camps in Lebanon.

About 4,000 policemen, including a helicopter-borne tactial unit and army units, were deployed in the Galilee. Armoured vehicles and tanks were sent into villages. That day six young Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed either by troops and police, about 100 wounded, and hundreds arrested.

The month following the killings, an internal government report, written by senior Interior Ministry official Yisrael Koenig, was leaked to the press. The 'Koenig Memorandum' offered recommendations intended to “ensure the [country’s] long-term Jewish national interests.” These included “the possibility of diluting existing Arab population concentrations.” The aim was clearly to weaken the position of Palestinians and "Judaise" the Galilee.

This proceeded despite the protests, and not only farming land but Arab-owned marble quarries were taken up by expanding "development towns" like Upper Nazareth and Carmiel, in which Arabs - even Druze who serve in the Israeli armed forces -would find it hard to rent a flat or pursue a job. When I visited the area in 1986 I saw evidence of Bedouin homes up in the mountains being destroyed in an effort to move them on, though recent Zionist reports claim the Galilee Bedouin are regarded as loyal to the state.

Some towns have recently been trying to impose an oath of loyalty to Zionism and the State as a condition of residence, apparently spurred on after a couple from Sakhnin -scene of some of the 1976 shootings - attempted to move into a nearby town.

But the western Galilee, originally allocated to a Palestinian state in the 1947 UN partition plan - retains a large Palestinian population. Land Day is a gesture not just to those who uphold the principle of a Right to Return, but a tribute to those who have clung steadfastly to their right to remain in their land.

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