Land Day

Palestinian protesters gather to throw stones at the northern entrance of Al Bireh, close to the settlement of Beit El. This location is close to a checkpoint, an army base and a refugee camp. It frequently witnesses clashes between the Israeli army and Palestinians. (Photo: Annelies Keuleers)

On Saturday, March 30th, Palestinian protesters gathered near the illegal settlement and army base of Beit El in Ramallah to mark Land Day. Protesters told Mondoweiss they were there to defend their homeland, and show their support for the one-year anniversary of the Great March of Return. “We are one people,” one protester told Mondoweiss. “They are us and we are them.”

Bethlehem University’s Jamil Khader writes of the Great March of Return: “The importance of the Great March of Return lies in the way it staged a raw and unmediated confrontation between the brute high-tech power of one of the most powerful armies in the world and the bare life of thousands of unarmed people in their humanity and dignity . . the message of the march reframes the right of return and freedom not only within international human rights law, but also within an emancipatory and utopian future for all.”

As Nada Elia crosses the U.S.-Mexico border at a crossing on the divided town of Nogales, her mind turns to the parallels of on-going dispossession experienced by the Palestinian people, and Native Americans across Turtle Island: “The few days I spent with my Native friends cemented in me the determination not just to recognize that all of Turtle Continent is indigenous (something I already grasped), but that my decolonial struggle, as a Palestinian, is incomplete if I do not link it with the decolonial struggle on this continent.  More than ever before, as we discussed the need to liberate the land, I felt that, if I am not an active part of the solution, then I am contributing to the problem.”

Ahmad Kabariti reports from the first day of the Great March of Return in Gaza where 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces. Despite the Israeli violence, there are scenes of nonviolent protest and persistence, and even a wedding. Groom Alaa Shahin tells Kabariti, “A few hundred meters away from those soldiers eyes, I emphasize my right and the whole Palestinian peoples’ right to return home after 70 years of displacement, we will not wait another 70!”

On March 30th, the village of Al Walaja welcomed Palestinians from from surrounding areas to mark Land Day by planting olive trees. The village has lost most of its lands since 1948, in successive waves of Israeli confiscations and land grabs. Ali Khalil Al-Araj, a resident from Al Walaja, 50, said, “I am here because this is our land. We will stay here and we will defend it. My family just with the settlement and the road, we lost 50 dunums.  But we will stay and die here.”

“What if 200,000 Palestinians headed peacefully to cross the border, while raising a poster that says they only want to go back to their land? What would happen?” It all started in 2011 with that Facebook post, the dream of a 33-year-old man in Gaza named Ahmed Abu Ratima. The Great March of Return will start on Land Day, March 30, and will continue for six weeks until May 15, which commemorates the Nakba, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes to make way or the creation of Israel. Palestinian refugees living in Gaza will set up tents near the border and move gradually—and peacefully—closer.