Commentary

Palestinians Commemorate Land Day with Protests

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

Last week, Palestinian took to the streets to commemorate Land Day. As Miftah’s Julie Holm notes in her column for the Palestinian daily: “Thirty-six years ago, in March 1976, Israeli authorities announced that 5,500 acres of Palestinian-owned land would be confiscated from villages in the Galilee. The land was expropriated for ‘security and settlement purposes’, and declared a closed military zone. The decision to confiscate the land was followed by curfews on surrounding Palestinian villages, effective from 5 pm, March 29. Local Palestinian leaders responded by calling for general strikes and protests against the confiscation of the land, to be held the following day, March 30, 1976. This is the day that has been commemorated ever since, as Youm al-Ard; Land Day.”

Taking the opportunity to refocus the attention of policy makers away from other troubled spots in the region, many of the regional dailies reflected on the plight of the Palestinians. The Gulf Times editorial for example provided a vivid description of those living in the Occupied Territories: “The never-ending conflict in Palestine has almost inured its people to violence. Israel’s contentious ‘security wall’ has created new neighborhoods where the indigenous Arab population is effectively cut off from the Jewish state, but has to still live with the rules and terms of occupation being dictated by Israel.”

The Gulf Today editorial considers the futility of the efforts on the part of the Israeli government to deter Palestinians from holding any rallies or staging demonstrations: “It was naive on Israel’s part to have issued the warnings in the first place....The Palestinians and Arab Israelis are frustrated and should be expected to make Land Day rallies as massive as possible. That is troubling Israel because the reverberations of the protests would be felt throughout the world, reminding the international community of the injustice inflicted on the Palestinians and Arabs of Israel.”

For some, the mass protests witnessed over the weekend are just a manifestation of the despair and conditions to which the Palestinian people are subjected. Al Qassam website noted on a statement that it would be hard for the Palestinians not to protest since “IOF [Israeli Occupying Forces] have continued to impose severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinian civilians throughout the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem. Thousands of Palestinian civilians from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip continue to be denied access to Jerusalem.”

Similarly, Oman Tribune declared in its editorial: “The Palestinians are certainly a frustrated lot. They are in utter despair over the untimely demise of the Middle East peace process and there is not even a smidgen of hope of its resuscitation in the near future....The last few months have witnessed talk of a new Intifada, primarily due to the ultra-hawkish policies of the Israelis, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership. So, unless the Israelis veer from the present path, danger lies ahead as more and more Palestinians start realizing that a peaceful approach will not help them achieve their freedom.”

The Land Day protests coincided also with a statement released by the imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, who, according to a Yedioth Ahronoth report, “was placed in solitary confinement in Hadarim prison on Sunday after he called for a ‘large-scale popular resistance’ against Israel last week....In a missive read to a crowd of his supporters in Ramallah last week to mark the 10th anniversary of Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank, during which he was apprehended by IDF forces, Barghouti called on the Palestinian Authority to ‘stop all forms of security and economic coordination (with Israel) in all areas immediately.’”

Following Barghouti’s call for more protests, UAE’s The National, editorializing on the events of the last few days,  notes “Calls for non-violent, popular resistance have been heard throughout the Palestinian struggle, but those calls have often been undermined since the first Intifada by armed resistance. The breakdown in negotiations — and the repeated failures of armed resistance — have pushed both Fatah and Hamas towards a more constructive strategy....With justice on their side, Palestinians can use popular resistance to put more pressure on Israel and, crucially, to gain support from the international community. The Palestinian Authority's petition for recognition of statehood at the United Nations was the strongest diplomatic push of the past decade. Those efforts, overturned by U.S. intransigence, should be renewed as soon as possible.”

The reaction to the Land Day commemorations by some Israelis has predictably cold. In an op-ed for Jerusalem Post, Israel Kasnett suggests “Pro-Palestinian supporters have clearly been duped into thinking they are fighting to free Palestinians from the chains of Israeli oppression. They naively believe a Palestinian state would act as a moral beacon for the rights of women and gays and for basic freedoms. It appears to have never occurred to the thousands of activists marching on Israel’s borders that a Palestinian state would represent an absolute threat to those who today enjoy basic freedoms and quality of life thanks to Israel....The Palestinian approach in fighting for their cause and building statehood does nothing to promote coexistence and understanding. Today the Palestinians are preparing the next generation for war — not peaceful relations with Jews.”

However, in a dueling piece on the other Israeli daily, Haaretz, Sam Bahour and Fida Jiryis make the case for “why Land Day still matters…. For our part, as second-generation Palestinians born and raised outside Palestine, who have decided to return to live in this troubled land, we view Land Day as an ongoing wake-up call to Israeli Jews and Jewry worldwide to understand that land, freedom and equality are an inseparable package — the only one that can deliver a lasting peace to all involved.”


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