Israeli Arabs observed Land Day on Sunday in protests held mostly in the Galilee and the Negev.
The main protest in the North took place in the village of Arrabe, in the Lower Galilee near Sakhnin. Protesters waved Palestinian flags and chanted as drums played in the background.
Around a thousand people turned out in Arrabe, and a smaller group turned out in the unrecognized Beduin village of Sawawil, AFP reported.
Less than 24-hours after six Palestinians were arrested near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate for throwing rocks at police and others on the eve of Land Day, two more Palestinians were arrested in the same area for a separate riot Sunday afternoon.
According to police, at 4 p.m. approximately 70 Palestinians began throwing rocks at police to commemorate Land Day, which is held on March 30 to commemorate the deaths of six Galilee Arabs in 1976 riots over a government decision to confiscate land.
Two of the rioters were arrested and no injuries were reported, police said.
Although east Jerusalem portfolio head Dr. Meir Margalit (Meretz) uniformly condemned the violence, he described the rioting as an “act of solidarity” among all Palestinians over the confiscation of Arab land since 1967.
“First of all, it’s a matter of identification, the same way Israeli Arabs identify with Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem,” he said. “Secondly, don’t forget that in east Jerusalem there are problems over the confiscation of land – more than 30% has been taken since 1975 and 1976. So they suffer from this confiscation, as Arabs in the Galilee did.”
Moreover, Margalit said that the foundering peace negotiations, compounded by increased settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, have put Palestinians on edge.
“We have to take into consideration that negotiations are at a sensitive and critical point, and so the people of east Jerusalem are manifesting their solidarity about not only what has happened in the past, but also what is happening on the ground now,” he said. “We have to realize that the issue of the land is symbolic for Palestinians and embodies their cause.”
The Monitoring Committee of the Israeli Arab Leadership, which organizes the protests, called a general strike in the Arab sector. However, the strike was carried out unevenly.
When asked what he thought about Land Day, an Israeli Arab car washer in Kafr Kasim, a city in the central region just inside the Green Line, said he did not even know it was today.
The car washer, from the Badir family, told The Jerusalem Post that shops in the city were running like on any other day and people were working. He then went on to dismiss all of the political activity surrounding the day, saying that people in his town were not involved in this.
A member of the management of a shop in the small town of Kafr Bara, which is just north of Kafr Kasim, mocked surprise and sadness when asked about Land Day.
“It is today?” he said, as he put his head in his hands and smiled, as his guest laughed.
“People here are working like a normal day,” said the guest, adding that political activity is mainly taking place in the North.
A resident of Tira, an Israeli Arab city to the west of Route 6, did not want to be identified, but said that perhaps around 30 percent of shops closed in his town. He went to work as usual, as did his father, he said.
He works in the Jewish sector and says that people want to work and not get involved in politics.
“It is complicated,” he said.
In the Israeli Arab town of Jaljulya, near Kfar Saba, the shops were open in the afternoon. When asked if the town showed any support for the strike, a shop worker told the Post that shops in town were closed until noon.
An Israeli Arab doctor from the North contacted by the Post said that he could not talk, as he was working a shift at the hospital.
MK Jamal Zahalka, the head of the Balad party, told the Post on Sunday that he was at the gathering in the Negev, which included a march to Sawawil and included members of the Knesset.
He said that UAL-Ta’al MK Taleb Abu Arar was there, as well as the new mayor of Nazareth, Ali Salam, who came with two buses.
“We reconfirmed our commitment to defend our lands and homes and our unrecognized villages in the Negev,” said Zahalka.
“All refuse the Prawer-Begin Bill or any similar plan,” he said.
The bill for reallocating Negev land is frozen, as Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir studies the issue.
Shamir took over responsibility in January from former minister Bennie Begin for handling the Beduin land issue. The measure, set to be revised, is a five-year economic development initiative to regulate Beduin settlement in the Negev.
Regarding the release of prisoners, Zahalka said the PA should not renew negotiations without the release of the prisoners.
Asked about the general strike, which in many places was not observed, he responded that the strike “was very strong all over” but with “some exceptions here and there.”