Sam Bahour and Fida Jiryis write: 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 territories, but citizens of the state, a group that now numbers over 1.6 million people, or 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 36 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.
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.