Unlikely Jerusalem village takes the lead on Land Day

on 18 Comments
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Palestinian protester in traffic at Qalandia checkpoint for the annual Land Day protest, March 30, 2013. (Photo: Team Palestina Facebook)

Last year Palestinians protested in thousands to mark Land Day, an annual commemoration of six killed during a 1976 march against land expropriations in the Galilee, but this year’s protests failed to capture the same momentum. Along with the main march in Sakhnin, the location of the first Land Day demonstration, Palestinian grievances were contained to the expected sites of hot conflict—Qalandia checkpoint and Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem—with the unforeseen addition of the Beit Safafa neighborhood in Southwest Jerusalem.

While each of the annual days of protest in the Palestinian activist calendar mark some form of oppression by Israeli authorities, Land Day is the only action to specifically originate from Palestinian citizens of Israel. During the first Intifada the protest struck a chord with West Bank Palestinians when four were killed marching in 1988, and three in 1989. Since that time Land Day has shifted into a special occasion where all Palestinians—Israeli citizens, West Bank, Gaza, refugees and diaspora—can unite under a single banner. Yet last year both protestors and the Israeli authorities were suprised by the tens of thousands who turned out. The Israeli response was jarring to watch, reflecting a tint of the U.S. civil rights movement as water cannons pelted back protesters. Equally alarming in Gaza, Hamas police used force against protesters in order to keep them from reaching the barrier with Israel.

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Journalists stand behind the Israeli military at Qalandia checkpoint. (Photo: Allison Deger/Mondoweiss)
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Palestinian protester at Qalandia checkpoint. (Photo: Allison Deger/Mondowiess)

West Bank

In the afternoon hours at Qalandia, the main artery between Jerusalem and Ramallah, journalists and Israeli border police outnumbered the scant protesters that lingered between cars. On a normal day, Qalandia is a man-made traffic jam nightmare. The ingredients of chaos are the presence of an overbuilt refugee camp, one traffic circle for cars both exiting and entering the West Bank, and roadblocks and the checkpoint itself. Today the bumper-to-bumper traffic created a deep barrier between protesters carrying Palestinian flags and throwing stones, and the Israeli border police.

Behind the border police milled journalists and a few Western tourists, waiting for masses of demonstrators that never showed. Russia Today, whose live coverage last year included video feed from multiple locations across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, even dispatched a crew from Moscow to cover the expected repeat of an outpouring of political frustration. However, the crowds—and the injuries (over 150 at Qalandia alone, and one death)—of last year’s protests never came to the West Bank.

When I arrived at 11:30 am, other journalists described flash bangs lobbed into the media fray by Israeli border authorities even before the protesters had arrived. Later tear gas canisters were rolled into the journalist bay and fired into the open traffic.

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Al-Ram near Qalandia checkpoint. (Photo: Allison Deger/Mondoweiss)

Smaller demonstrations outside Ramallah took place in al-Ram, where protesters burned tires and border police fired tear gas in response, and in Jayyus with tree planting. Further south in the West Bank a memorial was held near Bethlehem, attended by Mustafa Barghouti (the subject of a controversial incident in last year’s Land Day protest during which he experienced a head injury).

Elsewhere in E1, site of the twice short-lived protest village Bab al Shams, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad symbolically planted a tree. During Bab al-Shams’s most recent re-construction that coincided with President Barack Obama’s visit to the region a number of officials from different political parties lent their support—including Barghouti who was a staple to the encampment and the first arrested during the raid last week. By comparison, Fayyad never visited the camp while it was functional and did not comment on the arrest and detention of the inhabitants and organizers.


Outside of the official Land Day protest in Sakhnin in Northern Israel, the largest demonstrations took place in Jerusalem. On Salah al-Din Street, which links the Old City to Sheikh Jarrah, hundreds marched peacefully alongside 100 border police, and Israeli police. “Unfortunately the Israelis tried to stop the demonstration even though no stones were thrown,” said Muath al-Khatib, a photojournalist for Watan, a Palestinian news service.

I talked to al-Khatib on the steps of the Damascus Gate around 3 pm, after most of the day’s uprisings had subsided. “Lately things are unpredictable, really. Sometimes it [demonstrations] becomes really powerful, sometimes it is nothing,” he continued.

In the morning Al-Khatib started work stationed at the Damascus Gate until he received a phone call that the march had surprisingly commenced blocks away. Such a change of plans is routine for Palestinian protests, a hallmark of the lack of political unity and fragmentation of those who are most willing to take to the streets. Al-Khatib then re-grouped and chased the demonstration. He said the marches were likely smaller this year than last because many Palestinians feel burnt out after weeks of protests for noted hunger striker Samer Issawi who has surpassed 250 days of fast. Yet al-Khatib still finds Land Day to be an important action for the Palestinian cause. “Our land is occupied, we must demonstrate to free our land.”

“Last week they viciously attacked two journalists,” he continued, shifting to concerns working as a Palestinian journalist for a locally based agency. Two Fridays ago al-Khatib was photographing clashes near Al Aqsa Mosque when he said border police fired on journalists. Even more, in the past few weeks some of al-Khatib’s friends were detained while working. Pulling out both his Watan press credentials and a Palestinian Authority media card al-Khatib proceeded, “This is what we are now afraid of, even though the journalists have Arab credentials, they still get arrested.”

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Beit Safafa. (Photo: Wafa Images/Team Palestina Facebook)

Al-Khatib was the first to tell me about a protest in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa where a land confiscation is already underway. Beit Safafa was an unlikely spot for one of the country’s largest demonstrations. Around 200 protested a settler road slated for construction in the center of the village, splitting it in half. Weeks ago Friday protests began in this Palestinian middle class community in Southwest Jerusalem. Yet only recently have the marches reached national attention. (Alex Kane reported on the mounting pressure from Beit Safafa.)

This community has a rather unique reputation. It is clean with quiet streets, and the flurry of Israeli shoppers that visit the neighborhood—especially on the Sabbath—pin Beit Safafa as a model for uneventful friendships between Israelis and Palestinians. But interpersonal relationships are not the cause of this conflict. The Israeli government plans to build a road in the neighborhood that will surely economically devastate half the town, rendering it to the same obscure fate as every other Palestinian village that has had a wall or a fence cut through it.

Despite the unpredictable rise of Beit Safafa to the center of Land Day, the neighborhood is undergoing the same experiences that caused the first Land Day demonstrations. Beit Safafa has now officially plucked itself into the national narrative of loss of land and the fight to keep it. And while the demonstrations were small today, it is hardly an indicator that dissidence will continue to lull.

Tensions are still high over hunger striker Samer Issawi and the young people who lost their lives in demonstrations against his incarceration. Likewise President Obama’s goodwill visit failed to promise a new horizon for ending the occupation through negotiations. Perhaps the lack of mobilization for Land Day speaks to an overall disillusionment with passé structures of resistance, and even a formal protest seems like a tactic for an era long ago.


About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Mondoweiss.net. Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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18 Responses

  1. Citizen
    March 31, 2013, 12:39 pm

    Odd, I didn’t hear anything in the US mainstream media about “Land Day.”

    • MK_Ultra
      March 31, 2013, 3:16 pm

      I’m surprised you didn’t hear how the Palestinians used the excuse to violently attack those attending religious ceremonies and such. Every Isrealite site has covered it extensively.

  2. DICKERSON3870
    March 31, 2013, 12:49 pm

    RE: “Last year Palestinians protested in thousands to mark Land Day, an annual commemoration of six killed during a 1976 march against land expropriations in the Galilee, but this year’s protests failed to capture the same momentum.” ~ Deger

    MY COMMENT: I wonder why, NOT! ! ! “[T]he Palestinians had to be taught a lesson they would not forget, so as to drive any idea of an unarmed mass action out of their minds.” ~ Uri Avnery (see below)

    SEE: “Netanyahu: Stupid Like a Fox?”, By Uri Avnery, Antiwar.com, 06/13/11

    [EXCERPT] Last week, there was a repeat performance. The Palestinians all around Israel have declared June 5 “Naksa” Day, to commemorate the “Setback” of 1967, when Israel spectacularly defeated the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, reinforced by elements from the Iraqi and Saudi armies.
    This time, the Israeli army was prepared. The fence was reinforced and an anti-tank ditch dug in front of it. When the demonstrators tried to reach the fence—again near Majdal Shams—they were shot by sharpshooters. Some 22 were killed, and many dozens were wounded. The Palestinians report that people trying to rescue the wounded and retrieve the dead were also shot and killed.
    No doubt this was a deliberate tactic decided upon in advance by the army command after the Naqba Day fiasco and approved by Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak. As was said quite openly, the Palestinians had to be taught a lesson they would not forget, so as to drive any idea of an unarmed mass action out of their minds.
    It is frighteningly reminiscent of events 10 years ago. After the first Intifada, in which stone-throwing youngsters and children won a moral victory that led to the Oslo agreement, our army conducted exercises in anticipation of a second Intifada. This broke out after the political disaster of Camp David, and the army was ready.
    The new [second] Intifada started with mass demonstrations of unarmed Palestinians. They were met by specially trained sharpshooters. Next to each sharpshooter stood an officer who pointed out the individuals who were to be shot because they looked like ringleaders: “The guy in the red shirt… Now the boy with the blue trousers…”
    The unarmed uprising broke down and was replaced by suicide bombers, roadside bombs, and other “terrorist” acts.
    With those our army was on familiar ground.
    I suspect very much that we are witnessing much the same thing once more. Again, specially trained sharpshooters are at work, directed by officers. . .

    SOURCE – http://original.antiwar.com/avnery/2011/06/12/netanyahu-stupid-like-a-fox/

    “Frozen Angels” by Zoe Keating on the CD ‘One Cello X 16: Natoma’ (2005) [VIDEO, 07:56] – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHdXIvutGzQ

  3. Obsidian
    March 31, 2013, 1:00 pm

    Beit Salafa aside, isn’t the real story that is this year’s Land Day protests had a very low turnout of demonstrators.


    Why do you suppose that is?

    • dimadok
      March 31, 2013, 3:04 pm

      Because everyone is sick of that and it doesn’t lead anywhere.

      • thankgodimatheist
        March 31, 2013, 7:29 pm

        Could it be because one gets killed for as much as protesting peacefully all so often?

      • talknic
        April 1, 2013, 12:57 am

        @ Obsidian

        ” this year’s Land Day protests had a very low turnout of demonstrators.”

        Pro rata? Definitely NOT! Ever heard of simple maths?

        “Why do you suppose that is?”

        Dunno…. say, maybe there’s something in the article that tells us.. ( maths and reading are definitely not some folks strong points )

        @ dimadok “Because everyone is sick of that and it doesn’t lead anywhere”

        Whatever keeps your bile flowing ..

    • MK_Ultra
      March 31, 2013, 3:17 pm

      Here’s one guess, Obsidian: because they were brutally repressed? Again, just a guess; I’m sure you have the inside scoop though. But thanks for asking, your interest is moving.

    • ritzl
      March 31, 2013, 7:35 pm

      The turnout wasn’t low. 10K people in Israel is like 400K in the US, a huge and significant demo. Even the 1000 people that turned out at al-Sayed would be equivalent to 40,ooo people here. Again highly significant, particularly given the reasons in the article.

      And only the turnout in Al-Sayed was termed “disappointing” by the organizers of that specific event, because they wanted more people to show up, not a lament about the significance of the 1000 who did.

      Here’s the quote from your linked article:

      Around 10,000 people participated in the Land Day rally in Sakhnin on Saturday, while only around 1,000 came to the main event in the south of the country, a march in the vicinity of the unrecognized Bedouin village al-Sayed. Organizers of the latter event said they were disappointed with the low turnout, particularly in light of the fact that this year’s theme was opposition to the Prawer plan, which calls for relocating tens of thousands of Negev Bedouin from unrecognized villages to recognized communities. The organizers attributed the low turnout in part to the scheduling of concurrent events in both the north and the south as well as to the deep sense of shock in the Negev Bedouin community after three brothers from the same family drowned while swimming at an Ashkelon beach a few days ago.

      Obsidian: “Why do you suppose that is?”

      Well, the article explained why. Two major events on the same day and mourning over a tragedy in the Bedu community. Not from lack of interest in the underlying rationale, as you imply.

      So, even if you accept the plausibility (admittedly a real possibility when talking to media) that the Al-Sayed event organizers were putting a happy face on the actual turnout in the sense that you suggest (generic disinterest), in Israel, these people who Israel calls Arabs to reinforce their second-class status, face very real harm should they attend these events. That, to me, makes the turnout doubly significant.

      You ostensible “hole-pokers” do a great service here. People that come here to casually read can see that you rarely if ever tell even a small part of the whole story. I have never [yes, going with never] read a third-party, relatively objective link supplied by one of you all that directly supports your contentions.

      But to your credit, you did supply a link. Most of you don’t.

  4. Annie Robbins
    March 31, 2013, 1:11 pm

    Despite the unpredictable rise of Beit Safafa to the center of Land Day

    actually that doesn’t surprise me. they have been consistently protesting for months now and what israel is doing to that village is criminal. here’s another report w/ amazing photos and demonstration video: http://mondoweiss.net/2013/03/another-israeli-only-highway-set-to-cut-through-east-jerusalem-neighborhood-brings-protest.html

  5. MK_Ultra
    March 31, 2013, 3:21 pm

    The significance of Land Day

    by Nabil Alsahli


    Exactly thirty-seven years ago, on 30th March 1976, the people of Palestine rose up against Israel’s occupation of their land. After 28 years of living under curfews and restrictions on movement; oppression, terror and racism; impoverishment; seeing their land stolen from them and villages demolished inside the Zionist state as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, they’d had enough.

    The uprising took the shape of an all-out strike and massive public demonstrations in Israel, during which the security forces killed and terrorised the indigenous Palestinian population. The Israelis used live ammunition against the demonstrators and killed Khadija Shawahna, Raja Abu Rayya, Khader Khalayla, Khair Ahmed Yasin, Muhsen Taha, and Ra’afat Ali Zuhdi. Dozens more were wounded and three hundred were arrested.

    What sparked-off the uprising? The Israeli authorities confiscated more than 5,000 acres of land belonging to the villagers of Arraba, Sakhnin, Dair Hanna, Arab Alsawaed and other areas to give to Jewish settlements as part of the government’s plan to Judaise Galilee. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back, because it is worth noting that between the creation of Israel on Palestinian land in 1948 and 1972 the Israeli government stole more than a quarter of a million acres of Arab land in Galilee and the Triangle alone, a cluster of Arab villages adjacent to the 1949 armistice line. This was in addition to the vast tracts of land taken by the Israelis after massacring Palestinians and ethnically cleansing historic Palestine in 1948.

    What became known as the Land Day uprising did not take place at random; it was the result of the collective suffering of the Palestinians in their land occupied by mainly European Jews since the establishment of the state of Israel. When the Palestinians living under Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip joined in, Land Day became a national Palestinian event, a symbol of the people’s unity inside the historic land and in the diaspora.

    Land is at the core of the conflict with the Israeli state. Palestine is located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. It is bordered by Syria and Jordan to the east, Lebanon and parts of Syria to the north, and Egypt and the Gulf of Aqaba to the south. Historic Palestine’s total area is 27,009 square kilometres. Despite its relatively small size it can be divided into four distinct areas, each with its own topography, climate, flora and fauna: The plains area is concentrated along the coast and makes up 17 per cent of the total area; the Negev Desert to the south covers almost 50 per cent of the land; hills and mountains account for 28 per cent; the balance is known as the Jordan Valley, or Alghour, about 5 per cent of Palestine’s total area.

    The British Mandate divided Palestine into six administrative districts in 1939:

    1. Galilee Province in the far north of Palestine close to the Lebanese border with Nazareth at its centre. It has five districts: Acre, Bisan, Nazareth, Safad, and Tabaria. The population of each district in 1945 was around 231,000 people over an area of almost 700,000 acres, or 10.4 per cent of Palestine.

    2. Haifa Province focused on the city of Haifa and the surrounding area. Covering around 255,000 acres it represents 3.8 per cent of Palestine with a population in 1945 of 242,630 Palestinians.

    3. Nablus Province’s three districts were Nablus itself, Jenin and Tulkarem, with a total area of more than 800,000 acres representing 12.1 per cent of Palestine. The population in 1945 was 232,220.

    4. Jerusalem Province covered Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron and Ramallah with an area of more than 1 million acres, around 16 per cent of Palestine and a population of 384,880.

    5. Lod Province centred on Jaffa with the districts of Jaffa and Ramle. Mainly in the plains, its area was 300,000 acres, that’s 4.5 per cent of Palestine, and a population of 501,070 in 1948.

    6. The final province was Gaza along the south-west coast and including the Negev Desert which, on its own, made up half of the total area of Palestine. With two main administrative districts centred on Gaza City and Ber Shiva, it covered almost 3.5 million acres with, in 1945, a population of just 190,880.

    Despite Israel’s ethnic cleansing, Galilee preserved its Arab majority, although it is the area where the government concentrated its Judaisation policy to impose a Jewish identity. In early 1975 Israel announced a plan to Judaise Galilee called the “Galilee development 2020” project. This is one of the most menacing of Israeli plans, and includes the proposed construction of eight industrial zones in Galilee necessitating the confiscation of 5,000 acres of Arab land. The government justifies this by calling undeveloped Arab-owned land “neglected land” so that it can build on it. With this objective in mind, Israel has sought to isolate its Arab minority citizens from their surroundings and land within the so-called Green (Armistice) Line.

    In 1947, the UN resolution to partition Palestine allocated 54 per cent of the land to Jews who owned around 6 per cent of historic Palestine. Today, “Israeli- Arabs” represent 20 per cent of Israel’s population but have just 2 per cent of the land on which Israel was established. The process of Judaising Galilee was, and still is, one of the goals of the Zionist movement: first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion put it thus: “Settlement itself is what decides whether we have to fight for Galilee or not.”

    Accordingly, in 1948 Israel targeted and occupied a lot of land in the Galilee area, building 350 settlements there. The government justified this by arguing that the land was owned by “absentees” – in fact, Palestinians who had been driven away at gunpoint – although the Judaisation process was not confined to such land; it also took property used by the British Mandate authorities, estimated at between half and three-quarters of a million acres. This was still not enough for the Israelis, who started to take over land still occupied by its owners.

    Since 1948, the Israelis have issued several laws to give a veneer of legality for their control over Palestinian land, including the Absentees’ Property Laws, through which they have been able to confiscate a further 250,000 acres of the most fertile Arab land.

    Under the governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu, numerous other laws have been passed to limit the Israeli-Arab rights to their land and impose a “Jewish identity” on Palestine. There has been a systematic policy to Judaise place names and religious sites, including mosques and churches. Judaisation has been concentrated in Galilee and the Negev Desert, and latterly occupied Jerusalem.

    Land Day is thus a very important commemoration for Palestinians seeking to remain connected to their land, and holds great significance for those inside Israel – around 1.5 million people – as well as in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There are 5.5 million Palestinian refugees registered with the UN in countries neighbouring Palestine and millions more in the global diaspora. The land issue will remain at the core of the conflict with Israel; Land Day, 30th March, serves as an opportunity for Palestinians the world over to reaffirm their commitment to free their land from occupation and return to build their lives there.

  6. Les
    March 31, 2013, 4:29 pm

    Something else to celebrate;
    [Take note of the Jewish students who complained that they were unable to bring in outside supporters to pump up their oppostion to the resolution because they didn’t have advance warning of the vote.]

    One of Canada’s largest student association endorses BDS against Israel
    Jewish student groups at York University say they were not given advance notice of the vote and had little time to prepare an argument against the resolution.
    By JTA | Mar.31, 2013 | 1:43 PM

    One of the largest student association in Canada passed a resolution endorsing the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

    With the passage late last week of the resolution, York University’s student association joins two others in Canada – the University of Toronto and Concordia University graduate student associations – in endorsing the BDS campaign, according to the York University Excalibur.

    The campaign calls for universities to divest from holdings in companies that do business with Israel and to cut ties with Israeli academics.

    The vote by the council of the York Federation of Students was 18-2 in favor and was advocated for by the Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York.

    Jewish student groups at York complained that they were not given advance notice of the vote and had little time to prepare an argument against the resolution.

    In comments to the Excalibur, Safiyah Husein, a vice president of the York Federation of Students, portrayed the resolution as uncontroversial. “Indeed, not everyone supports reduced tuition fees, equity campaigns, or sustainability work, but we know the majority of our members believe this work is vital and important,” Husein said.

    Chaim Lax, president of [email protected], said his group was disappointed and called the resolution “fundamentally racist, and a possible violation of [York’s] anti-discrimination codes.”

    The York Federation of Students resolution will have no actual bearing on the university’s investment portfolio.

    “York University uses best practices in developing its policy on investments, and this is built on advice from major investment consulting firms,” York spokeswoman Janice Walls told the Canadian Jewish News.

    The student federation represents over 52,000 undergraduate students at York, Canada’s third-largest university.


  7. giladg
    March 31, 2013, 11:40 pm

    6 died in 1976.
    70,000 have died in Syria.

    • talknic
      April 1, 2013, 12:47 am

      giladg 6 died in 1976.
      70,000 have died in Syria.

      The first 6 were people in their own land slaughtered by foreigners occupying them

      The second is a civil war.

      Did you have a point?

    • Cliff
      April 1, 2013, 5:23 am


      What do you care about dead Syrians?

      You’re a Zionist Jew and a settler

      You should care about the crimes of your own country and the crimes you are responsible for – first and foremost

      Not crimes committed by other countries that you’re not responsible for and thus can criticize with no reflection upon yourself

      Americans are responsible for Israeli crimes since Americans foot the bill

      We did not cause the Syrian civil war. In fact we aren’t whitewashing the death toll of however many have died.

      We drum it up, because its good for us to do so.

      But when it comes to your crimes, Gulag, you whitewash them and divert attention away

      You assume we don’t care about Syria but why would caring about Syria hurt our integrity? Syria is not a big deal in terms of identity politics and peer pressure to conform for anti-Zionists

      It’s easy to condemn and we do, because its condemnable. It should be and ‘is’.

      Whereas Israel kills and steals and discriminates but those crimes are swept under the rug or downplayed or ignored entirely.

      And it is done so by religious fanatics and racists like you.

    • William Burns
      April 1, 2013, 7:43 am

      Do you ever talk about Syria when you’re not defending Israel, giladg?

    • MK_Ultra
      April 1, 2013, 7:29 pm

      I beg to differ but 6 didn’t die in 1976. 6 were murdered on that particular day in 1976. Many, many more were killed in 1976. The word genocide applies here for the despicable war crimes perpetrated on the Palestinians by the terrorist entity known as ISreal. Your deflection tactics are cheap, old and disingenuous but do serve to highlight the crimes of ISreal against the Palestinians and the rest of her neighbors.

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