Today, March 30th Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, marched for Land Day, Yom al-Arda in Arabic, which commemorates protest in the Galilee in 1976 where six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed.
The main marches today were held in the village of Sakhnin and Arrabe in the north of Israel, home to the first Land Day protests 39 years ago. Other demonstrations took place in the lower Galilee and in the Bedouin town of Rahat in the Negev desert. Unlike past years, no general strike was called. Businesses and schools stayed open although the Israeli outlet Ynet News reported 70% of school-aged Palestinian children inside Israel took the day off. “Sixty-seven years have passed since the establishment of Israel and there still is no equitable allocation of land,” said Joint List Knesset-elect member and current parliamentarian Ahmed Tibi in Rahat, reported the Jerusalem Post.
Across the West Bank where protests have been constant, weekly in some regions, there was low turnout as numbers at protests have been dwindling since the most recent uptick during the summer war in Gaza. Three smaller marches were held in the villages of Huwara, Nabi Saleh and Wadi Fuqin. In Nabi Saleh, host to weekly Friday protests against a settlement land confiscation, more than 200 gathered, including a cohort of Israeli activists. One Palestinian was arrested. In East Jerusalem, Palestinians congregated by the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City. Gaza held events on March 29th.
Outside Nablus in the West Bank hamlet of Huwara, known for a defunct checkpoint of the same name that caused long waits during the Intifada years, fewer than 100 attempted a march on the main road during the morning. Settlers and Palestinians both share a highway that cuts through the village. Protesters waving Palestinian and Fatah flags paraded and blocked traffic for 20 minutes until the army dispersed the crowds with tear gas. “We have protested every year for the past four years,” said two university students from Huwara while standing in the shoulder. A Red Crescent ambulance rushed off with six who suffered from tear gas inhalation.
“I believe the form of popular resistance which we have been advocating for, for more than 13 years is succeeding now, and becoming the main form of struggle for all Palestinians,” said Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Central Committee. “It’s non-violent, it’s peaceful and it’s effective.” Yet Dr. Barghouti, conceded, “we need to do more.” He felt in the long run protests and marches were on the rise, pointing to a recent four-day long demonstration by Palestinian citizens of Israel who traveled on foot from the southern Negev desert to Jerusalem over their impending evictions.
As the Huwara demonstration came to a close, dozens of soldiers appeared throughout the town on nearly every block. Their armored Jeeps buzzed back and forth on the main thoroughfare.
“They want me to close my store because they said that there are some problems around,” said Sami Soso, 32, a market owner in Huwara on the protest route. Two soldiers had just approached Soso and told him to shutter his store and scatter a lingering group. “I said ‘ok, but that’s not my road. I can control my store, but I can’t control the road,’” said Soso as soldiers motioned to a group of college aged women carrying books walking towards the center of town from a nearby college.
Other shopkeepers gathered with Soso on his deck in front of refrigerators where he stores Coca-Cola waiting for military permission to unlock their doors. Elementary school-aged children searched through a plastic bag full of spent gas canister they collected. For the store owners, Land Day was passed not protesting, but waiting for the army to allow them to re-open their businesses. “This happens every month,” said a Palestinian from Huwara.