Emotions run high for Israeli Arabs as Land Day approaches

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police are deploying extra units in the North for Land Day.

Israeli Arabs raise Palestinian flags at a Land Day rally, March 30 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli Arabs raise Palestinian flags at a Land Day rally, March 30
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In the run-up to Friday’s Land Day events marking the anniversary of the 1976 shooting deaths of six Arab protesters against land expropriations, Arab MKs on Wednesday charged that today there is also a severe attack against Arab property.
“Sometimes I feel that every day is becoming land day in the shadow of the ongoing attack on Arab land and homes,” said MK Yousef Jabareen.
He cited official statistics that became available this week showing a doubling of demolitions of illegal structures in the Negev in 2017 compared to 2016 and pointed to plans to demolish the Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran next month to make way for a new Jewish town at the site. “Umm al-Hiran reflects Israeli policy toward our community,” he said.
Jabareen also alleged there is “increasing discrimination” in Israeli society, citing the example of Kfar Havradim, where the process of issuing tenders for an expansion of the community was frozen after Arab citizens acquired about half the tenders in the first round of bidding.
“We commemorate land day because it reflects day-to-day challenges and major distress as citizens,” Jabareen said. Likud MK Anat Berko termed Jabareen’s allegations “incitement” and dismissed the idea that there has been an intensification of policies harming Arabs.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police are deploying extra units in the North for Land Day. “Regular security measures are being implemented, as in previous years. Extra security units will be in the North, where there are a number of planned demonstrations.” He said that “no specific warnings” about disturbances were received.
Israeli Arabs mark 39th Land Day with protests
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“We are coordinating with the leaders of the Arab community to make sure demonstrations take place peacefully. If necessary, our units will respond in the different areas,” he said.
The six protesters were killed after Arab leaders called a general strike and marches against plans to expropriate hundreds of hectares in the Galilee between the towns of Sakhnin and Arrabe and riots ensued. In advance of the strike, thousands of police deployed and army units were also called in. About 100 Arabs and many members of the security forces were wounded the day of the strike.
To Arab citizens and to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and abroad, the six fatalities and the protest as a whole became symbols of Arab determination to struggle to defend the land. Perhaps for the first time, the Arab minority in Israel became a central part of the Palestinian struggle.
The High Follow-Up Committee, a representative body of the Arab minority, on Wednesday announced that this year’s Land Day events would start with an Arab-Jewish meeting late Wednesday in the Beduin town of Kuseifa to coordinate opposition to plans to build a phosphate mine that would entail the eviction of some ten thousand Beduin, many of them from al-Poraa village. The Health Ministry and critics of the plan say the mine would endanger the health of residents of the Beduin villages, who, according to officials, are to be moved to a newly constructed town nearby, and pose the danger of toxicity to Kuseifa and nearby Arad.
“Cancer can’t know if a person is Arab or Jewish, and this is also a struggle for environmental justice,” said Raja Zaatry, the committee’s spokesman.
Arad resident Sarit Oked, director of the organization We Want to Live Without Mines, addressed the gathering. “I didn’t come to a Land Day event, I came to an event to explain about the mine,” she told The Jerusalem Post.
Oked said the opposition to the mine is a shared one between Arabs and Jews.
“Every demonstration we do together,” she said.
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman told a Knesset committee recently that the mine “will harm and kill people.” But Rotem Amfert, the subsidiary of Israel Chemicals that would carry out the mine project, disputes that there is a health problem. It says a study was made in the past and no danger was found. It also says the mining will comply with the Clean Air Law.
On Friday afternoon, the main Land Day gathering in the North will be held in Arrabe, while a gathering is also planned for Ras Jaraba, an unrecognized Beduin village near Dimona. On Saturday, a protest will be held at a site known as Roha near Umm el-Fahm at land that is to be confiscated so that an electricity line can be extended.
“We believe alternative ways can be found without confiscating our land in Roha,” Jabareen said.
MK Taleb Abu Arar said of this year’s event: “It’s a very, very difficult feeling because there is an escalation by the government in uprooting communities and carrying out home demolitions.”
But MK Anat Berko (Likud) said the criticisms are unwarranted. “I don’t think the situation is getting worse. We live in a state of law, so you cannot build without a permit.”
About Kfar Havradim, she said: “If there is a rural community that wants to keep its character, they can do it just as every Arab village does, and just as every kibbutz has an admissions committee. I live in the city and don’t see a problem there about people living where they want. Perhaps it is necessary to check the members of the Joint List who every day incite against the state. It certainly doesn’t help the Arab citizens, who know they don’t have a better place than this country for shared life.”
Berko backed the plans to level Umm al-Hiran, saying: “The Supreme Court decided it is illegal building. You can’t decide one time to obey the court and another time not to.”