Palestinian Land Day commemorated in Christchurch

Posted: April 21, 2015 by Admin in At the coalface, Community organising, Democracy movements, Imperialism and anti-imperialism, Internationalism, Israel, Mass resistance, Middle East, Palestine

images (1)by Nick Scullin

On Wednesday, 8 April 2015, the newly-formed Christchurch Palestine Association (CPA) held an event to commemorate Land Day (30 March), with an exhibition of Palestinian poetry, art, photography and the history of Land Day. Around 40 people attended.

Land Day commemorates the day in 1976 when Palestinians in Israel rose up in general strike in response to the Israeli announcement of a plan to confiscate large tracts of Palestinian land within the state of Israel. The following conflict saw the Israeli state kill 6 unarmed Palestinian protesters with hundreds of others wounded or arrested. The guest speaker for the commemorative event was Nijmeh Ali who grew up in Haifa. Her family are internal refugees originally from Mia’ar in the Galilee. Nijmeh holds an M.A. in political science from Hebrew University and is currently working on her PhD at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Otago University.

The Nakba

Nijmeh first talked about the Nakba which is the catastrophe of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the displacement or murder of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whose only crime was to be living on land that Jewish settlers wanted for their new colony. She stressed that the Nakba is the most important event in Palestinian history, that it shapes the identity of the Palestinian people and also that it is an ongoing reality rather than a static historical event. To illustrate this point she told the story of her sister’s wedding several days before. Her sister is an internally-displaced refugee in Israel and her husband is from Lebanon. She is an Israeli citizen and therefore cannot live in Lebanon because Lebanon and Israel are still technically at war. For the same reason, he cannot live in Israel and therefore they must live elsewhere, marrying in Denmark and now moving to the UK to live.

Nijmeh discussed the UN partition plan that preceded the creation of the state of Israel. Patently unfair, the partition plan gave Israel more than half the land in Palestine despite the fact that Jews owned only a tiny fraction of the land. In 1948 more than 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed, including Nijmeh’s family’s village of Mia’ar. Of the 156,000 Palestinians remaining in Israel, 25% were internally-displaced refugees. She stressed that prior to 1948, Palestinians in all of Palestine were part of a broader Middle East, where people could travel freely to many surrounding countries for study or business. Citizenship of Israel ended this for the Palestinians inside Israel. They were now isolated from the rest of the Palestinian community and the broader Middle East.

Legislating for land confiscation

She also talked about how Israel legislates for the confiscation of Palestinian land. In 1950 Israel passed the Absentee Property Law that meant that internally-displaced Palestinians could not return to their homes even if they were still in the same area and could prove that they owned the homes. Israel now has around 23 laws that enable the confiscation of Palestinian land. From 1949 to 1972 Palestinians lost 1 million dunams of land, roughly equivalent to 247,105 acres.

Palestinian internal refugees, she said, posed a huge problem for the Zionist project. The response was to keep Palestinians in Israel under Military Administration from 1948 to 1966, which severely restricted their movement within the country. Israel also created the myth of the Arab Israeli minority to support its claim to be a democracy, in that it had given some Palestinians citizenship of Israel.

Land Day 1976

Nijmeh talked about Tawfiq Ziad who was the mayor of Nazareth, a member of the Communist Party of Israel, a renowned Palestinian poet and who emerged as a leader of the Land Day movement. In response to an Israeli government plan to confiscate thousands of dunams of Palestinian land, a general strike was called for 30 May 1976. The Israeli response was brutal. The Galilee was declared a military zone and the strike was prohibited. 4,000 Israeli police were sent to the area and, in the resulting clashes with strikers, 6 unarmed Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded when Israeli forces opened fire on them.

Land Day surprised and confronted the Israeli establishment. According to Nijmeh, the Shin Bet (an Israeli internal security agency) controlled all education for Palestinians in Israel and believed that they would not rise up because of this control. The Israeli state had forbidden the teaching of the Nakba in schools for Palestinians and enforced the teaching of pro-Zionist history. They were surprised that the Palestinians in Israel rose up in a general strike. The response of the Israeli news media was to justify the violence with the idea that Palestinians understood only violence.

The legacy of Land Day

Land Day serves as inspiration for action in the Palestinian resistance movement both within Israel and in the wider Palestinian community. It also led to much greater recognition of the Palestinian struggle within Israel by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). Nijmeh sees Land Day as an inspiration for the First and Second Intifadas in which Palestinians have continued to rise up against Israeli oppression, particularly in the West Bank.

She ended her talk by coming back to the ongoing nature of the Nakba. Currently, under the Prawer Plan, first proposed in 2011, the Israeli government is trying to confiscate the land of 70,000 Palestinian Bedouin who live in the Negev in villages that are not recognised by Israel. The plan is opposed by Palestinians and internationally, with the European Parliament in 2012 calling on the Israeli government to abandon it. Nijmeh stressed the importance of an international solidarity movement to support the fight against the Prawer Plan and the ongoing confiscation of Palestinian land and to build the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

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