Land Day 2021: Thought Israel's cleansing of Palestinians couldn't get any worse? You were wrong

Land Day 2021: Thought Israel's cleansing of Palestinians couldn't get any worse? You were wrong
Comment: After 45 years of historic dispossession, Palestinians are facing intensified Israeli efforts to cleanse them from their lands, writes Emad Moussa.
6 min read
29 Mar, 2021
Israeli bulldozers demolish an 'unauthorised' residential building in East Jerusalem [Getty]
The Palestinian calendar is riddled with commemorative days, each representing an episode in the precarious search for identity and self-determination, and the daily struggle for dignity and basic human rights.  

This year, we mark the 45th anniversary of Land Day, recalling 30 March, 1976, when the Israeli government declared its intention to confiscate approximately 5,000 acres of land from its Palestinian owners in several villages in central Galilee.

The protest against the land theft quickly turned into violent confrontations between the demonstrators and the Israeli Border Police, who entered the villages and stormed private homes. By the end of the day, six Palestinians were dead and 70 wounded. 

Forty-five years on, Israeli land theft continues unabated. Settlements are expanding; land confiscations for military, security, or industrial purposes are increasing; and, especially unsettling, measures to rid Jerusalem - the aspired capital of a future Palestinian state - of Palesinians, are stepping up. 

Although the memory of 1976 is commemorated by Palestinians everywhere, for the Palestinian minority inside Israel, Land Day has a particular meaning. It serves as a reminder of their status as a community trapped in a purgatory state between the struggle for their Palestinian identity and their position as citizens in a state they had no say in establishing. 

For 17 years after the 1948 Nakba, those Palestinians were a besieged community governed by martial law. The 1948 memory and the longing for exiled family members, neighbours, and whole communities occupied only the private sphere.

  It's painful to think that now only 15-percent of historic Palestine is inhabited or owned by Palestinians  

Fearing Israel's backlash, Palestinians asserted their identity in poetry, novels, and paintings, using symbolism as a means of safe delivery. Public rallies, protests, or political activities were highly restricted. Palestinians were expected to forget Palestine, and simply accept a new identity as loyal "Arabs" to the newly established Jewish state.

And so Land Day is a central memory for Israel's Palestinian minority, not only becuase it marks the first physical revolt against the Israeli state, but because it was the day that shattered the illusion of "Arab Israeli citizenship" which followed the lifting of military rule in 1966. As such, it

brought the land back to the forefront of the struggle. 

This wasn't the first time - and wouldn't be the last - that the Palestinians in Israel suffered fatal casualties by the Israeli authorities. Twenty years earlier in October 1956, the Israeli army committed a massacre in the village of Kufr Qassem, killing 47 villagers. The difference is that in Kufr Qassem Palestinians were passive victims. On Land Day, however, they became victims with agency, standing up for their rights and defying the Israeli state.

In that sense, Palestinians inside Israel were not very different from their brethren everywhere else; all started as victims only to turn into agents of resistance. 

Read more: Israeli settlers storm Palestinian town, torch cars

The decade or so that followed the Nakba was disorientating. Our grandparents were trying to figure out what exactly happened and how, overnight, they turned into either "intruders" on their own land, or refugees scattered across the world.

It was an overwhelming sense of humiliation. Weighed down by the long wait for salvation, for the Palestinian Godot who never came, a whole Nakba generation adopted a kind of deliberate amnesia. Not in the sense of having forgotten Palestine, but more of an adaptive strategy to cope with the overwhelming, befuddling feelings of loss.

For the diaspora Palestinians and Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the way out of passive victimhood came in the form of armed resistance, and the establishment of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. For the Palestinians inside Israel, it was Land Day which turned the cumulative memory of loss into a physical act of resistance. In fact, Land Day re-emphasised the concept of collective Palestinian memory and shared destiny regardless of geography.  

It's painful to think that now only 15-percent of historic Palestine is inhabited or owned by Palestinians, in stark contrast to the period shortly before Israel's inception, when Jewish emigrants who composed one-third of the population "owned" less than seven percent of the land. 

Today, Palestinians inside Israel continue to see their land confiscated through less direct methods too, such as the denial of use, or through convoluted legal procedures. Building permits are limited and geographic expansion due to natural population growth is restricted. In the Negev, demolition of residences belonging to the Palestinian Bedouin community is almost a weekly occurrence. 

Nowadays, you could probably drive from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea deep in the West Bank without seeing many Palestinians. Although the majority in the region, we were systematically turned into "absent-presentees", confined into little enclaves surrounded and separated by settlements, Israelis-only roads, and security/military zones. Ironically, such "facts on the ground" make the occupation nearly invisible to the novice eye. 

Particularly disturbing this year is the all-time high in measures to cleanse Jerusalem of its Palestinian population. Since 1967, they have lived under a precarious legal system, neither as Israeli citizens nor as Palestinians with similar legal status as their peers inside Israel, or the West Bank and Gaza.

  Land Day re-emphasised the concept of collective Palestinian memory and shared destiny regardless of geography  

Instead, they have been burdened with legal and political hurdles geared toward forcing them to leave. In addition to heavy taxation, they require building permits from the municipality, but these permits are almost never granted, forcing them to build their homes "illegally". This inevitably results in their homes falling prey to Israeli state bulldozers.

They also live under the risk of their homes being occupied by Jewish settlers, who would claim Biblical rights or use fake land-deeds. As I write this, seven Palestinian families in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem are
facing evictions from their homes by a court order, in favour of Jewish settlers. 

Despite the layered complexities of the conflict, Land Day reminds us that land is always the core of our struggle. Because of that, our conflict with Zionism must always be stripped down to its basic components: an asymmetrical struggle over land between us, the indigenous population, and those who colonise and oppress us armed with claims of historical ties to the land.

Everything else is marginal.


Dr Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer who specialises in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.  

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.