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Why Land Day still matters

Today, with no resolution in sight to the historic injustices inflicted upon them, Palestinians in Israel and elsewhere use this day to remember and redouble their efforts for emancipation.

By Sam Bahour and Fida Jiryis

Every year since 1976, on March 30, Palestinians around the world have commemorated Land Day. Though it may sound like an environmental celebration, Land Day marks a bloody day in Israel when security forces gunned down six Palestinians as they protested Israeli expropriation of Arab-owned land in the country’s north to build Jewish-only settlements.

The Land Day victims were not Palestinians from the occupied territory but citizens of the state, a group that now numbers over 1.6 million people, or more than 20.5 percent of the population. They are inferior citizens in a state that defines itself as Jewish and democratic, but in reality is neither.

On that dreadful day 38 years ago, in response to Israel’s announcement of a plan to expropriate thousands of acres of Palestinian land for “security and settlement purposes,” a general strike and marches were organized in Palestinian towns within Israel, from the Galilee to the Negev. The night before, in a last-ditch attempt to block the planned protests, the government imposed a curfew on the Palestinian villages of Sakhnin, Arraba, Deir Hanna, Tur’an, Tamra and Kabul, in the Western Galilee. The curfew failed; citizens took to the streets. Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as those in the refugee communities across the Middle East, joined in solidarity demonstrations.

Palestinians from the Galilee town of Sakhnin commemorating Land Day, March 30, 2013. (Photo by: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Palestinians from the Galilee town of Sakhnin commemorating Land Day, March 30, 2013. (Photo by: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

In the ensuing confrontations with the Israeli army and police, six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed, about 100 wounded and hundreds arrested. The day lives on, fresh in the Palestinian memory, since today, as in 1976, the conflict is not limited to Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip but is ever-present in the country’s treatment of its own Palestinian Arab citizens.

The month following the killings, an internal government paper, written by senior Interior Ministry official Yisrael Koenig, was leaked to the press. The document, which became known as the Koenig Memorandum, offered recommendations intended to “ensure the [country’s] long-term Jewish national interests.” These included, “the possibility of diluting existing Arab population concentrations.”

Israel has been attempting to “dilute” its Palestinian population − both Muslims and Christians − ever since.

Thirty-eight years later, the situation is as dire as ever. Racism and discrimination, in their rawest forms, are rampant in Israel, and are often more insidious than physical violence. Legislation aimed at ethnically cleansing Palestinians from Israel is part of public discourse. Israeli ministers do not shy away from promoting “population transfers” of Palestinian citizens − code for forced displacement.

Israel’s adamant demand that the Palestinians recognize it as a “Jewish state” leaves them in a situation of having to inherently negate their own existence and accept the situation of inferiority in their own land. Recent efforts in the Knesset to link loyalty to citizenship threaten to target organizations and individuals who express dissent and even the revocation of citizenship, a practice unheard of in other countries.

Budgets for health and education allocated by the Israeli government to the Arab sector are, per capita, a fraction of those allocated to Jewish locales. Although hundreds of new Jewish towns and settlements have been approved and built since Israel’s creation, the state continues to prevent Arab towns and villages from expanding, suffocating their inhabitants and forcing new generations to leave in search of homes. Palestinians living in Israel are heavily discriminated against in employment and wages.

The message is clear: Israel has failed, abysmally, in realizing its oft-cried role as “the only democracy in the Middle East” with such discriminatory policies and a culture of antagonism and neglect vis-a-vis a fifth of its citizens. The original Land Day marked a pivotal point in terms of how Palestinians in Israel − living victims of Israel’s violent establishment − viewed their relations with the state. Today, with no resolution in sight to the historic injustices inflicted upon them, Palestinians in Israel and elsewhere use this day to remember and redouble their efforts for emancipation.

Memorial commemorating the deaths during the events of 1976. Annual Land Day commemoration in Sakhnin, March 30th, 2007. (Photo by Activestills.org)

Memorial commemorating the deaths during the events of 1976. Annual Land Day commemoration in Sakhnin, March 30th, 2007. (Photo by Activestills.org)

The names of the six victims of Land Day are written on the front of a monument in the cemetery of Sakhnin, accompanied by the words: “They sacrificed themselves for us to live … thus, they are alive − The martyrs of the day of defending the land, 30 March 1976.” On the back of the monument are the names of the two sculptors who created it: one Arab, one Jewish. Maybe it is this joint recognition of the tragedy of Palestinians that is required in Israel to get us beyond the chasm of denial.

For our part, as second-generation Palestinians born and raised outside Palestine who have decided to return to live in this troubled land, we view Land Day as an ongoing wake-up call to Israeli Jews and Jewry worldwide to understand that land, freedom and equality are an inseparable package − the only one that can deliver a lasting peace to all involved.

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian business consultant from the Palestinian city of El Bireh. He blogs at www.epalestine.com. Fida Jiryis is a Palestinian writer from the Arab village of Fassuta in the Galilee. Her website is www.fidajiryis.net. Sam and Fida were both born in the Diaspora and relocated to their family’s hometowns in Palestine and Israel, respectively.

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    1. Rehmat

      The incident was part of Zionists’ old demographic (Jewish only) plan for Palestine.

      Dr. Chomsky, in 2011 Op-Ed in the New York Times, handled it a different way. He suggests that the current world-wide delegitimation of Israel momentum can be reversed by “those concerned with Palestinian rights should call for Israeli takeover of the entire West Bank, followed by an anti-apartheid struggle of the South African variety that would lead to full citizenship for the Arab population there”.

      http://rehmat1.com/2011/01/08/chomsky-and-the-legitimation-of-israel/

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bar

      “The message is clear: Israel has failed, abysmally, in realizing its oft-cried role as “the only democracy in the Middle East””

      Which is why two foreigners of Arab descent are able to move to Israel as citizens, live there, make a living and write anti-Israel screeds on whatever publishing medium they want.

      The hypocrisy and cynicism are almost as mind-boggling as having the Arab Deputy Speaker of the Knesset complain about apartheid.

      Reply to Comment
      • BaladiAkka 1948

        “… two foreigners of Arab descent are able to move to Israel as citizens ….”
        What is mind-boggling (to use your own words) is that you apparently didn’t read the article before commenting. Does that mean you’re paid to comment here ?
        Sam Bahour lives in El Bireh which is in the West Bank as every average informed person knows, and the West Bank is NOT Israel, no matter how much you scream.
        In this article by Fida Jiryis on the myth of Israel’s favorable treatment of Palestinian Christians, there’s a video where she explains that she came back to Fassuta because her father, an Israeli citizen, is from there.
        http://www.mondoweiss.net/2012/03/the-myth-of-israels-favorable-treatment-of-palestinian-christians.html
        Speaking about ‘foreigners’, where did you come from ? Russia or the US ?

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Sam Bahour is an American born in Youngstown, Ohio. Fida Jiryis is also from some place abroad.

          They have come here not because they are absent other options. They could have happy and fulfilled lives in the places where they were born. They come here because they are filled with hatred for Israel and wish to see it destroyed. That is precisely why ‘land day still matters’. As long as Israel continues to exist ‘land day’ will continue to matter because it is an occasion on which Arabs reaffirm their rejection of Israel and demand that Israel be destroyed under the pretext of their ‘right’ to a Jew-free Palestine over all the *land*.

          This is also why the State and its Jewish citizens are sometimes antagonistic to the Arab minority which sees the presence of both the State and the Jews as a problem to be solved and act accordingly. They call this solution ’emancipation’ or ‘justice’ to confuse naive observers. Calling for genocide and ethnic cleansing, which is what they are calling for in practical terms, would find much less approval among progressives.

          Reply to Comment
          • BaladiAkka 1948

            You didn’t read neither the article from the NYT written by Sam Bahour that I posted nor did you watch the video with Fida Jiryis, did you ?

            And let’s just make one thing clear: no Jewish supremacist from Russia or where the hell you come from is going to decide whether Sam Bahour has the right to live in his homeland.
            And isn’t is amazing with Jewish supremacists: after 2000 years of “exile”, they have the right to “return to their homeland”, converts included (one apparently gets new ancestors and a new homeland after converting to Judaism) but Palestinians are not allowed to return to their homeland after a few decades.
            Thank you, Clown9, for being here: you really are a perfect example of how ugly Zionism is.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Sam Bahour’s “homeland” is Youngstown Ohio where he was born and I read plenty of his articles to know that ultimately he wishes to see Israel destroyed to fulfill his, and yours, dream of seeing an Arab Palestine arise on top of Israel’s grave. That he dresses his genocidal intent in human rights language and that people allow him to do that is the real travesty that is going on here.

            I am *here* permanently and will continue demonstrating your failure to drive us out despite your best efforts. Your approval really does not concern us.

            Reply to Comment
          • It is the Palestinians’ home, as well.

            Reply to Comment
        • roberthstiver

          Well-stated, BaladiAkka!!

          Reply to Comment
        • BaladiAkka 1948

          Sam Bahour wrote an article in the NYT back in 2006 about how for 13 years he had to renew his tourist visa every three months to live in his homeland whereas every Jew in the world can just come and settle down in occupied Palestine.
          One has to be mentally sick to justify that, but then isn’t Zionism a disease ? http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/07/opinion/07bahour.html

          Reply to Comment
          • Vadim

            “but then isn’t Zionism a disease?”

            No. Zionism is the Jewish national movement.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            Hatred of Zionism is a disease.

            Reply to Comment
          • shachalnur

            That kind of disease are you talking about,Bar?

            The Soviet Union used new mental illness for political repression.

            People who didn’t accept the beliefs of the Communist Party developed a new type of Schizophrenia.

            They suffered from the delusion communism was wrong.

            They were isolated,forcefully medicated,and put through repressive “therapy” to bring them back to sanity.

            Reply to Comment
        • No, Sam Bahour Palestinian-American from Al-Bireh, Palestine and Youngstown, Ohio.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            There is no “Palestine.” There could be one, if Palestinians demanded it from their leaders and accepted that it can’t come at the expense of Israel’s existence. However, while we wait for that day, there is no Palestine.

            Reply to Comment
      • What this means is that forces in Israel are not working towards a single end, which is indeed a fine thing in my view. Which is not to say that one end goal is enjoying predominance right now.

        While I have clearly stated that I believe a Right of Return to be socio-economically infeasible (in fact so even if restricted to what’s left of the West Bank), and having also stated that I see the Independence Declaration’s ingathering of the exhiles as constitutionally unalterable (the Law of Return), I say nonetheless that these two writers have as tight a personal claim to living where they now do than any of the ingathering. I view the ingathering as constitutional reality under the Declaration, not divine privilege silencing history. And, if these writers are, as you say, “citizens of Israel,” they are not, then, as you also say, “foreigners” now. Citizenship trumps rhetoric–something Lieberman as yet to understand.

        Reply to Comment
        • This was meant as reply to Bar, above, Clicked at the wrong place, sorry.

          Reply to Comment
      • Wesley Parish

        What horrifies me is Israelis’ blithe indifference to the implications of behaving like Tsarist Russia at its anti-Semitic worst, and _then_ demanding that Palestinians and indeed the entire Arab and Muslim world accept Israel as _the_ Jewish state.

        I can’t imagine any other way of slandering Jews wholesale that could be any more effective. I mean, we do have Gush Shalom and we used to have Peace Now, but Bar and his ilk are experienced in slandering Gush Shalom etc, so …

        I mean, “Killing in the name of!”

        Reply to Comment
    3. Bar

      Newsflash to all the moronic conspiracy theorists about “paid habsara workers:” The primary group of people being paid for their activism are the Adalah employees, Yesh Din workers, B’Tzelem workers, 972mag writers, Michael Sfard and his fellow lawyers, the two writers listed above, Electronic Intifada’s founder (and contributors), Mondoweiss’s founders, ISM’s founders, BDS leaders such as PACBI’s head Barghouti, UNHRC rapporteurs such as Falk and Duggan, UNRWA employees, the countless NGO employees (such as those at HRW and Amnesty who cover Israel) who make a living attacking Israel, and the list goes on and on and on and on.

      Trust me, if I had the resources to make this a part time or a full time gig, I’d take that job in a heartbeat even if cut my income.

      Oh, and Greg, it doesn’t matter whether you agree with the fact that the writers may or may not move to Israel or Judea and Samaria, the point is that they have.

      But yeah, my bad, Sam Bahour is an American living in Judea and Samaria. And apparently the occupation is so stifling and dangerous that he freely writes whatever he wants about Israel. The point is exactly the same.

      Reply to Comment
    4. ‘The month following the killings, an internal government paper, written by senior Interior Ministry official Yisrael Koenig, was leaked to the press. The document, which became known as the Koenig Memorandum, offered recommendations intended to “ensure the [country’s] long-term Jewish national interests.” These included, “the possibility of diluting existing Arab population concentrations.”

      Israel has been attempting to “dilute” its Palestinian population − both Muslims and Christians − ever since.’

      Ironically or not, this 1976 internal paper is inconsistent with the Admissions Committee (or Community) Law, which retards ethnic dispersal by allowing locals living in an area to define acceptable entry of others. As I have said elsewhere, house titles in the US sometimes used to have a clause which stipulated that resale would be limited to those who would “fit in” to the neighborhood; civil rights law struck these down.

      The Orr Commission of 2003 urged equal access to employment across race/ethnicity, and some progress has been made. But to deny spending power, which is what restricted access to the housing market does (via the above law) partially nullifies this gain. It may be that this law was formulated with the history of group living in mind (e.g., kibbutzes), as Bar has suggesgted; but as it stands the law allows covert discrimination by third parties. The law may deny race may be a factor, but there is no way to verify this per decision. Market transactions should be neutral. There will be group formation costs to this; communities will change in character. Rights have difficult consequences at times.

      So there is a sense in which “diffusion” is part of the solution, which is not to say that discrimination in tenders, zoning, and building additions in Arab vilages should stand.

      Bar, my point, above, was and remains that Israeli citizens, as citizens, are not foreign. Their opinions are not tainted by their origin. There is a bright line at citizenship. Lieberman’s two proposals–a loyalty oath of non Jewish citizens and the corporate stripping of Arab Israelis of citizenship by location–show he refuses that line. As I said earlier, Israel is not all of one seam; it is simply factually incorrect to say Israel has no tolerance built into it. It does. Not enough, and there is a bite back at present, but it does.

      Finally, as to the ‘conspiracy theori[es] about “paid habsara workers:”,’ they are derivative of commentors like Ginger who manged to insult about everyone on this site who might be considered left. I, for example, was termed “in need of professional help” as well as of a job, and that I should get off “welfare” and “food stamps.” The unending barrage lead me to suspect she was being paid. You are nothing like that. I learn from you, for what that may be worth, and I think it as much a mistake to generalize to “hasbara trolls” as “all leftists.”

      In my view, if there is an answer to all of this, it is in the in between.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bar

        You do realize the “community law” only affects towns with 400 families or less, right? If you were a Jewish family seeking to live on a kibbutz at any time in the past 100 years, you’d be expected to undergo a vetting process and many families and individuals were rejected.

        This law ensures that these smaller communities have a right to control their own future and society. Again, this has nothing to do with Arabs. In fact, I’d bet some Arab families would gain admittance faster than Jewish families. There’s no such law applicable to larger towns, cities and communities.

        “Israel has been attempting to “dilute” its Palestinian population − both Muslims and Christians − ever since.’”

        Simply a false claim and all you need to do is travel through Israel to see this is a false claim. Not only are Arab communities growing in size, but also in income and wealth. Israel has been allocating additional resources to many Arab communities to supplement their poor arnona tax collections, has opened up jobs in the government in a form of affirmative action intended to correct biased historical hiring practices and subsidizes and encourages Arab higher education.

        That’s without getting into the historical support Israel has offered Arab families through national insurance and large family subsidies, which in effect enabled the Arabs of Israel to have large families without economic penalties that people with many kids normally suffer.

        It’s not a perfect history, by far, but considering the enmity with Arabs surrounding Israel (which has seen support at times from some Israeli Arabs) and the often-vociferous criticisms of Israel and its self-identification which we have seen over decades from the Muslim Israeli-Arab community, not to mention the uselessness of their politicians who prefer to yell at the system instead of being supportive so they could join coalition governments, there has been an understandable reluctance to sponsor the Arab community. And, if we are honest about it, they haven’t had effective politicians to press for their needs. The Knesset has always needed coalitions and if there was a supportive Arab group of politicians there, they would have been absorbed long ago into coalitions. But who the hell can bring Tibi or Zoabi into a coalition?

        Reply to Comment
        • Answers like this are why I like reading you.

          I found a very brief Wikipedia note that says, in Israel,

          “Single parents and some forms of economic hardship qualify for discounts or even exemptions.”

          I do not know why the property tax is so poorly collected in some Arab communities, or if the above is a factor. Or why the State does not aid in at least collecting current year tax (ignoring a perhaps crippling backlog). Israel is not a federation and can more easily intervene in local crises like this. I would think providing more State aid would be accompanied by remedying the local tax collection system.

          On the Community law, there is a distinction between owning and joining. A church may own land and decide who lives on it, with residency requiring work. A kibbutz would be much like that, I suspect. If the “communities” covered by the law are less than 400 families, the question becomes whether these are new building communities or old ones. If new, and if really single family housing with independent titles, and if subsidized in some form (I know not), I’m afraid the discrimination objection stands. Subsidization just makes possible discrimination worse.

          Perhaps in some cases Arabs would be given preferred entry. But, as you say, the history of your country is not consistent in these matters. People who didn’t want blacks in their neighborhoods talked about crime and freeloaders. Market price has to segregate that out.

          I advocate equal protection at this site because this cuts away history. The question becomes not who did what to whom, but who is harmed now and what can be done. Otherwise, one gets unending stories from all sides about what was done against each and who received help without gratitude.

          You know, I have found that questions such as these, derived from comment “conversation,” could probably often be answered by the piece authors. Mostly, comments become mutual accusations of intent and contrary fact which eventually die off as the thread goes away. I can only hope authors sometimes take note and produce something partly in response, somewhere else.

          Reply to Comment
          • Bar

            The answer to the arnona question was provided recently by an Arab Israeli researcher (female) in a paper outlining that two key problems prevail. The first is that most Arab towns don’t have industrial infrastructure and therefore have a low likelihood of collecting taxes from large businesses. Anybody who knows the Arab culture of Israel is aware that many businesses are family-run. This is a plus and a minus, but it probably factors into the size that some of these businesses achieve. The second problem is that Arabs tend to pay approximately 40-45% of what they owe in arnona taxes. She didn’t specify whether 40% paid or whether 40% was collected. If you do the math, you see that if they paid 100%, then their tax base would be much more likely to cover costs. Since most local costs in Israel are covered by local taxes, this is a significant problem. As some researchers have noted, Israel compensates for these low taxes by increasing the state funds given to these communities. Thus the village next to Zichron, the name of which escapes me right now, receives 4-5 times the support Zichron gets.

            Again, with respect to the community law, the history of the development of the Yishuv and then Israel drove this law. It should be noted that many of its proponents are leftists.

            Reply to Comment
    5. m. yacoub

      since our land is our mother,it should be there no matter the way,better than nothing dear

      Reply to Comment
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