Mohammed Moussa | 26-03-2018
March 30 has been a day of patriotism and resistance for Palestinians worldwide since 1976. But 2018 promises to be a record-breaker.
In response to the Israeli government's 1976 announcement of a plan to confiscate 21,000 dunums (nearly 5,200 acres) of Palestinian land, a general strike and demonstrations were organized in towns from the Galilee to the Negev. In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army and police, six unarmed Palestinians were killed, about a hundred were wounded and hundreds of others arrested.
Since that year, March 30 has been a day when Palestinians and their supporters have rallied to demonstrate their continuing attachment to their ancestral lands and shared cultural identity. And sometimes, Israel has responded harshly. For example, during the Second Intifada in 2001, on the 25th anniversary of Land Day, four Palestinians were killed and 36 wounded in Nablus when Israeli forces used live ammunition against protesters. And in Ramallah the same year, one Palestinian was shot dead and 11 others injured when soldiers clashed with 2,000 demonstrators who burned pictures of Ariel Sharon. There were companion protests in Gaza.
Some are wondering if Land Day 2018 will be the same. Palestinians in Gaza are planning a massive demonstration beginning March 30 and extending through May 15, the anniversary of the Nakba (catastrophe, when more than 750,000 people were driven from their homes to make way for the creation of Israel). The action comes amid heightened tensions after the U.S. government first announced it will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy from Tel Aviv (planned for May 14), then drastically cut funding for the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
“This year’s march may encounter numerous challenges, but we have to keep it non-violent; we must inform participants to stay nonaggressive and not to clash with the Israeli soldiers,” says political analyst Ibrahim Habib. “Israel’s fear of this march will force it to escalate and this mustn’t stop us from going on, even if they use drones to fire teargas bombs at the protestors as they’ve warned us they will do. We have to make this march succeed, because if it does, it will be a new stage of Palestinian resistance.”
The centerpiece of the planned activities in Gaza is a “tent city” at several points 700 meters (0.4 miles) from the Israeli border. What happens during the first week will determine plans for the following days. Meanwhile, groups in the West-Bank plan to plant olive trees on land that have been taken by the occupation. Other plans include the creation of murals and sculptures, exhibitions featuring Palestinian heritage products and handicrafts, and digital campaigns on various social networking sites.
“I love my land; I can’t forget it,” says Mahmoud Khaldi, a 65-year-old farmer in northern Gaza who plans on participating in the Great Return March. “My land is my soul and you can’t leave it behind. Even if they steal it, we will get it back.”
Ahmed Saleh, a 24-year-old journalist from Gaza who said he plans to join the march, agrees. “The commemoration of the Land Day is not just a narrative of historical events, but a new battle in a war to restore Palestinian rights.”
The Palestine Liberation Organization has issued a call to hold Israel accountable for “crimes against our people, land and rights,” and to expand the scope of Israeli products boycotted to break Israel’s siege on Gaza and its aggressive expansionist policy.
Fatah spokesman Atef Abu Seif called the March of Great Return a new “step to assert our right of return to our land, the land of our fathers and grandparents.”
Fawzi Barhoum, spokesperson for the Hamas movement that governs Gaza, launched a large military drill Sunday, noting that the bombing of the Strip over the weekend demonstrates that Israel is terrified of the impending demonstration. “But they have to know that this shelling will not stop us from preparing for the march,” he says.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel occupies more than 85 percent of historic Palestine. While Palestinians make up 48 percent of the total population, they are allowed to occupy only 15 percent of the land. At the same time, there are more than 6,000 Palestinian in Israeli prisons, most of them held as political prisoners.
“To us, land is an important aspect of our life,” says Ahmed Kama, 50, an activist who also plans to join the March 30 demonstration. “It provides security and a decent life; it is the home of the civilizations that have emerged throughout history. It is at the core of our identity.”
Haitham Kaloub, a member of the media committee for the march, sums up Palestinians’ sentiments by saying, “Land Day recalls for us the loss of our land and the memories of our ancestors who were killed protecting their land. On this day, we renew our hope, our determination.”
Posted: March 25, 2018
Mentor: Kate Casa