Thousands of Palestinians across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory marched Wednesday to commemorate the 40th Land Day, protesting decades of Israeli land grabs.
“Palestinians are entitled to their land and they will give up not one inch,” Hamas official Yehya Mousa said at a rally in Gaza City to remember the Palestinian protests against Israeli land seizures that were violently suppressed on March 30, 1976.
Hundreds of Gazans marched from the city towards the Erez crossing in the coastal enclave’s north, waving Palestinian flags and demanding the right of return of Palestinian refugees forced to leave their land when Israel was established in 1948.
Senior Fatah leader Zakariyya al-Agha also addressed Gaza’s rally, telling protesters: “The martyrs who fell on that day embodied national unity,” in reference to the six unarmed Palestinians gunned down 40 years ago.
“As the Palestinian people mark Land Day, they are still facing an (Israeli) policy based on ethnic cleansing and land confiscation, and the Netanyahu government continues with its racist plans to deport the Palestinians and build Israeli settlements and separation walls,” he said.
In the occupied West Bank’s Ramallah district, Palestinian students from al-Quds Open University and Modern University College who were marking Land Day managed to cut through a barbed-wire section of Israel’s separation wall east of al-Bireh.
The PLO for its part slammed Israel’s “racist” policy of allocating land solely for its Jewish population at the expense of the land’s indigenous Palestinian population.
“Rather than supporting the two-state solution on the 1967 border, the Israeli government continues to consider all of historic Palestine as part of Israel with the aim to impose two different systems, an Apartheid regime,” PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said in a statement.
There were mass rallies inside Israel too, including in Umm al-Hiran, a Bedouin community in the Negev which Israel plans to displace in order to expand the suburbs of Beersheba city.
Both Palestinians and Israeli activists took part in the protest, including the head of Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights, Rabbi Arik Ascherman.
This year’s Land Day commemorations follow a new wave of land grabs in the occupied Palestinian territory that rights groups say mark a return to an Israeli government policy not seen since the pre-Oslo period in the 1980s.
Condemning these confiscations, Israeli settlement watchdog Peace Now has said that “instead of trying to calm the situation, the government is adding fuel to the fire and sending a clear message to Palestinians, as well as to Israelis, that it has no intention to work towards peace and two states.”
Despite repeated condemnations by the international community, Israel has come under little actual pressure to halt its settlement program, land seizures, or the forced displacement of Palestinian communities.