Israel's Arabs to mark Land Day

Main event will take place in Lod, will protest demolition of homes.

arab girls 88 (photo credit: )
arab girls 88
(photo credit: )
Israel's Arab population plans to mark the 30th annual Land Day on Thursday. Marches and ceremonies will take place in Arab villages, towns, and cities around the country. The central ceremony will take place in Lod at 3:30PM. Land Day is an annual protest by Arab citizens against institutional discriminatory government policies. These policies were described by the Orr Commission in its report, and have been acknowledged and adopted by the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Land Day is also a commemoration of the bloody 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 their land by the government. During the central ceremony in Lod, the city's Arab residents will demonstrate against the recent demolition of homes in a number of neighborhoods. Often, Arab Israelis build without government permission, which they say they have trouble receiving. "It's the first time we are commemorating Land Day in a mixed [Jewish-Arab] city," said Abed Anabtawi, spokesperson 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 her Palestinian citizens.' Land Day demonstrations go back to events thirty years ago today when the Israeli government took a decision to confiscate 20,000 dunams of farmland belonging to Arab Israeli citizens. The land was said to be used for "security purposes," but was actually used to build new Jewish settlements and also a military training camp. The decision, taken in March 1976, included a curfew imposed on the villages of Sakhnin, Arabeh, Der-Hannah, Turhan, Tamra, and Kabul - all in the lower Galilee - which was to be effective from 5 p.m. on March 29, 1976. The next morning, the Arab citizens organized a general strike as wells as marches through the Arab towns, from the Galilee to the Negev. The government sent in the army and police with tanks and heavy artillery who shot and killed six unarmed citizens. Dozens more were wounded. Today, security forces are on alert but do not interfere in the annual protests. High-ranking government officials have acknowledged the government's discrimination of its Arab citizens. In the early 1990s, former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin expressed his "shame" at the state's treatment of its Palestinian minority and increased budgets to their communities. Chief of former prime minister Ehud Barak's staff, Yossi Cucik, apologized in a recent conference "for the discrimination against them over the years." He described their living conditions as "disgraceful." Representation of the Arab minority in government jobs is low relative to their presence in the general population. Between the years 2000-2004, the government passed bills and made cabinet decisions to improve the situation. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also passed a cabinet decision to raise the number of Arab members of boards of directors of government companies. Earlier this year, the High Council of Justice told the government that its long-standing policy of national priority zones, which allocates higher budgets to communities in the north and south of the country, is discriminatory and must end or be changed within one year. Out of 500 communities receiving benefits, only four were Arab, although Arabs have the highest rate of poverty in the country. A report published in 2000 by Sikkuy - the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality - stated that between 1948-1995 the density of the Arab population living inside Arab communities increased 11-fold. The constructed areas inside the Arab municipalities have increased 16-fold. Yet the municipal zones have shrunk 64% in comparison to what was defined the villages' lands before the establishment of the state." Sikkuy recommended in 2004 that Israel prepare and implement a 10-year plan to close the discrimination gaps, specifically in issues of land use to achieve "just land allocation," according to the Orr Commission's recommendation. "Israel's institutional discrimination against the Arab citizens of Israel is practically in all walks of life," said Shuli Dichter, co-Director of Sikkuy. "However, the land issue is particularly acute. The government must change its attitude and see the Arab citizens as fully equal citizens of the state who deserve the same as the Jewish citizens.