To commemorate Land Day this year, Palestinians are planning a Global March to Jerusalem to highlight processes of land theft and dispossession in the city. Elsa Rassbach speaks with Palestinian leader Mustafa Barghouti on Jerusalem and the non-violent resistance movement.
By Elsa Rassbach
On March 30 each year, Palestinians celebrate Land Day as a day of national struggle to commemorate protests in 1976 against Israeli confiscation of Arab land. The confiscation that sparked the protests took place in the Galilee and was seen as part of an Israeli policy to deliberately produce demographic change and create Jewish majorities in certain communities. The 1976 marches and general strikes spread to the Negev, resulted in the deaths of six unarmed Arab Israelis, and marked the first large-scale rebellion of Arab inhabitants of Israel after 1948. Widespread solidarity protests took place in the West Bank, Gaza, and in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
This year on Land Day, Palestinians throughout the Middle East and in the diaspora will call attention to the dangers facing the city of Jerusalem. The organizers of the “Global March to Jerusalem” allege that through methods of ethnic cleansing, Israel is forcing out Jerusalem’s remaining Arab inhabitants, thus endangering the multi-religious, multi-ethnic character of the city, part of which is the intended capital of a future Palestinian state. The Israeli government has long denied most Palestinians – whether Muslim or Christian – access to Jerusalem, even to visit holy sites.
On March 30, the Palestinians will attempt to get as close to Jerusalem as they can, including at the borders of Lebanon and Jordan, at checkpoints in the West Bank and at the Erez border crossing in Gaza. Demonstrations will also be held in Jerusalem itself. Supporters from five continents will join the march, and an advisory board to the Global March includes Nobel Peace laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire. Solidarity vigils and actions are also planned on March 30 at Israeli embassies and other locations in sixty cities around the world.
The Palestinian coalition organizing this Global March to Jerusalem may be unprecedented in its breadth. But after supporters from India, Malaysia, Pakistan and other Asian countries visited Iran on their way to Lebanon to join the March, some Israeli and U.S. press alleged it is being orchestrated from Iran and that violent clashes with Israeli forces are planned.
Among the most outspoken Palestinian supporters and organizers of the Global March is Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, 58, the well-known advocate of non-violent resistance. As secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, Dr. Barghouti played a key role in recent attempts to bring Hamas and Fatah together. He is medical doctor educated in the former Soviet Union, the United States and Jerusalem. He founded and leads Palestinian Medical Relief society, which provides health care to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In 2005, Dr. Barghouti ran for presidency of the Palestinian National Authority and won 19 percent of the vote. He resides in Ramallah in the West Bank. We recently spoke via Skype about the Global March to Jerusalem.
You have joined with Palestinians from many different political perspectives and many places in the world to call for the Global March to Jerusalem. What is this initiative about?
It’s an act of solidarity with the Palestinian people. It will take place on Land Day, March 30th, a day that symbolizes the unity of Palestinians in the struggle for freedom and dignity and against theft of their land. We hope to bring to the world’s attention the very grave violations that Israel is committing against Jerusalem. Both the UN and the International Court of Justice hold that annexation of East Jerusalem, which is part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is a violation of international law.
But there is illegal Israeli confiscation of Palestinian land throughout the Occupied Territories and also within Israel. Why the focus on Jerusalem?
Jerusalem is at the heart of the Palestinian cause. East Jerusalem should be the capital of the Palestinian state. If Jerusalem is lost, the whole concept and idea of Palestinian statehood is lost, and the possibility of peace is lost. And Jerusalem is an important place for all of humanity, a holy place for Muslims, Christians, and the Jewish people. It should be the place where peace begins.
Today in Jerusalem you see the Israeli system of segregation, apartheid and ethnic cleansing in the sharpest possible way. If a Palestinian man from Jerusalem marries a woman in Ramallah, only sixteen kilometers away, he will not be able to live with her. The Israelis will never grant her the right to move to Jerusalem, but if he moves to Ramallah, he will lose his ID and his residency permit in Jerusalem. And the permit may be withdrawn for political reasons as well. Though I was born in Jerusalem and worked there as a medical doctor for fifteen years, after I ran for president in 2005, the Israeli army thereafter refused to allow me in. Most Palestinians, including Christians and Muslims, also cannot enter.
But any Jewish person from anywhere in the world who decides to immigrate to Israel, whether from Siberia or the United States, will immediately be granted the right to live in Jerusalem or anywhere else in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Jerusalem is accessible to every Jewish person. It should be accessible to everybody. Many Jewish people from Israel and other parts of the world agree and are participating in and even organizing the Global March.
Among the demands of the March is “the right of return.” Why would Palestinians who live in historical Palestine support such a demand?
This demand means a lot to us, too, because there are huge numbers of refugees living in Gaza and West Bank who are denied access to the place they were forced to leave. Even Palestinians living in Israel who carry Israeli citizenship are not allowed to return home to their villages in Israel like Iqrit and Kafr Bir’im. The right of return is a right recognized by international law under a special UN resolution, 194. We do understand that its implementation will have to be negotiated, but the right itself has to be respected.
Last year on May 15, which is both Nakba Day and Israeli Independence Day, and on June 5, Naksa Day, the anniversary of the 1967 war, unarmed Palestinians tried to cross over the borders of Lebanon and Syria. According to some reports, in the two events, Israeli soldiers killed dozens, and wounded hundreds more. Could the Global March lead to a repeat of such violence?
The March will be an act of peace, an act of nonviolence, and that’s why Palestinians everywhere are united in supporting it. It reflects the consensus of Palestinians today on adopting nonviolence totally. We know that Israel is capable of terrible violence. All the organizers in Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Israel/Palestine are aware of this risk. We hope that the U.S. and the European countries will pressure Israel not use violence against our nonviolence.
Elsa Rassbach is a filmmaker and journalist from the United States, now based in Berlin. She is a member of CODEPINK, an organization that has endorsed the Global March to Jerusalem. She is a frequent contributor to German and U.S. publications. Her award-winning film, “The Killing Floor,” an historical dramatic film about a union’s struggle against racism in the Chicago Stockyards, will be re-released this year.