Hundreds of Israeli Arabs proudly marched through the old Arab quarter of Lod carrying Palestinian flags to mark the 30th annual Land Day on Thursday. Rich and poor, educated and uneducated, young and old, religious and secular joined to protest what they alleged were discriminatory government land policies towards them.
A tall white-haired man walking with a cane said the event was not designed to separate the Arabs for the sake of separation, but to allow them to obtain their rights as citizens.
Streets were closed off in Lod to allow the protesters to march, and security forces guarded the march and the ceremony that followed.
"We are basically asking for equality and protesting the demolition of homes," said the 66-year-old man, who only gave his name as Yusuf. "We want to be equal citizens in this state."
Land Day is an annual protest by Arab citizens against institutional discriminatory government policies, some of them acknowledged by the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
Land Day is also a commemoration of the confrontations with state security forces that took place on this day in 1976. Six unarmed Arab citizens were killed and some 100 injured when they protested the confiscation of thousands of dunams of land by the government, and used for settlements and an army training camp.
During the central ceremony in Lod, the city's Arab residents demonstrated against the recent demolition of homes in a number of neighborhoods. Often, Israeli Arabs build without government permission, which they say they have trouble receiving.
"It's the first time we have commemorated Land Day in a mixed [Jewish-Arab] city," said Abed Anabtawi, spokesman of the Higher Follow-Up Committee of the Arab Citizens of Israel. "It's a symbol of the suffering of the Arab citizens in mixed cities, especially regarding demolition of Arab homes. In our opinion [these house demolitions] are a systematic policy, whose goal is to cleanse Lod of its Palestinian citizens.