By Julie Holm
Thirty-six years ago, in March 1976, Israeli authorities announced that 5,500 acres of Palestinian-owned land would be confiscated from villages in the Galilee. The land was expropriated for ‘security and settlement purposes’, and declared a closed military zone. The decision to confiscate the land was followed by curfews on surrounding Palestinian villages, effective from 5 pm, March 29. Local Palestinian leaders responded by calling for general strikes and protests against the confiscation of the land, to be held the following day, March 30, 1976. This is the day that has been commemorated ever since, as Youm al-Ard; Land Day.
The events of the day were unprecedented. This was the first time, since 1948, that Palestinians, in what was now called Israel, stood together and collectively confronted Israeli authorities. The Israeli government declared all demonstrations illegal and yet, general strikes and peaceful marches took place throughout Palestinian towns in Israel, from the Galilee in the North to the Negev in the South. More than 400,000 people participated in the strikes. Simultaneously, solidarity strikes were held in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and in refugee camps in Lebanon. The Israeli response was militant and violent, aimed at subduing any signs of nationalism and resistance, as Israeli troops, backed by tanks, entered Palestinian villages and reoccupied them. The clashes resulted in the death of six unarmed Palestinians, three men and three women. Four were shot dead by the Israeli military, two others by the Israeli police. About 100 Palestinians were wounded and a further 300 were arrested.
Now, after decade upon decade of struggling and facing life under occupation, March 30 is still a date commemorating the day Palestinians took a collective stand against Israeli attempts to steal their land. Land Day is marked as a day of remembrance for those who were killed, and a day of protests against Israel’s ongoing policy of land expropriation from the Palestinians.
Israel’s expansionist policies and theft of Palestinian land did not end that day, 36 years ago. The thousands of acres of land that were confiscated and declared military zones were later utilized for massive illegal settlement expansion. Today Palestinian land is continuously being eaten up by Israel, with the separation wall, buffer zones, settlements and bypass roads expanding and removing the Palestinians from what means the most to them – their land. Almost everything in the conflict that has lasted for over half a century is related to the land; Palestinians forced from their homes, unable to return, their houses demolished, fields of olive trees being destroyed by settlers, checkpoints and roadblocks keeping families apart and above all, the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
But Land Day is so much more than a day portraying Palestinians as victims of Israel’s colonialist policies. It is about Palestinians everywhere standing up against the expropriation of their land. Land Day is marked in Palestine and throughout the world, by Palestinians and those who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. It is a time to remember and protest the injustice against and systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. Commemorating the events of March 30, 1976 is not only about everything the Palestinians have lost, but also about the Palestinian people standing together against those who have taken it away.
Julie Holm is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at [email protected]