By Zeina Azzam
Forty years ago today, the Palestinian citizens of Israel rose up against the Israeli government, which had just announced new and extensive land expropriation plans in the Galilee. Palestinians called for a general strike on March 30, 1976 to protest this latest manifestation of an ongoing policy of land confiscation. The protests turned bloody after violent confrontations erupted between the Palestinians and the Israeli army and border police. In the end, six Palestinians were killed, tens were wounded, and hundreds were arrested.
Before 1976, Palestinian Arab demonstrations against the government generally were rare because of stringent Israeli military rule and Palestinian poverty, isolation, and political fragmentation. Israel’s Judaization project of the Galilee—which meant massive land confiscation of Palestinian property and the movement of large numbers of Jews to the region to live and work on that land—propelled the Palestinian population to organize and resist. After 1976, Land Day was commemorated every year on March 30 and civil campaigns inside Israel grew steadily, challenging land policies and socioeconomic conditions and pressing for Palestinian national rights. Tireless public demands for equality and rights continue to this day. The Palestinian citizens in Israel are marking Land Day today with massive demonstrations in several Arab villages, including Arrabeh in the Galilee and Umm al-Hayran in the south.
Yawm al-Ard is now actively commemorated beyond the Green Line (the pre-1967 borders of Israel) as well; Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, in other Arab countries, and throughout the world mark this day in solidarity with all movements for Palestinian rights. The Palestine BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) national committee has called for BDS actions on March 30th, and last year the World Social Forum also declared the date an international day of action for the BDS movement.
Palestinian culture also celebrates the Day of the Land. The Palestine Poster Project has documented 154 posters containing creative photographs, art work, poetry, and solidarity messages about Yawm al-Ard. One of them features memorable lines by Palestine’s national poet Mahmoud Darwish: “O you who pass over my body…you shall not pass/I am the land in a body…you shall not pass/I am the land awakening…you shall not pass.” This is an excerpt from Darwish’s long poem titled “Qasidat al-Ard” (Poem of the Land), written shortly after the events of Yawm al-Ard in 1976.
In Darwish’s words, this important day in Palestinian history was a catalyst for an awakening to Palestinian agency in the quest for justice and Palestinian rights, and in the resistance to injustice. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation notes, “Today, Land Day symbolizes Palestinian resistance to Israel’s ongoing land expropriation, colonization, occupation, and apartheid.”
The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics reports that Israel now controls over 85 percent of the land area of historic Palestine. Israel’s Judaization project has become more forceful over the decades and gradually—and deliberately—expanded into the West Bank, in the form of land-grabbing and swelling Jewish settlements that are illegal under international law. Moreover, Palestinians in East Jerusalem daily witness house demolitions and takeovers by Israeli settlers, and Palestinian Jerusalem residents’ rights continue to be diminished or abrogated. In 2015 alone, Israel authorized the construction of 12,600 housing units in settlements in East Jerusalem.
Entire generations of Palestinians have been and continue to be born into this historical and lingering dispossession. They live either as second-class citizens in Israel, or under a fierce military occupation. A recent editorial in Al-Quds al-Arabi enjoins the Palestinian and Arab communities to place the Day of the Land in its original context, as one that defends geography, history, and culture and challenges racism and Israeli ethnocratic rule. Indeed, the entire international community would be wise to understand the current reality in Israel and Palestine as a powerful Israeli colonial enterprise that is subjugating an entire people—the Palestinians—who never cease to fight for their land while holding tenaciously to their history and identity.
Zeina Azzam is Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center.
The views in this brief do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.