Thousands of Arabs mark Land Day

Demonstrators chant in praise of "martyrs;" Arab MK: We aren't calling for autonomy but for inclusion.

land day 224.88 (photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
land day 224.88
(photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
Thousands of Israeli Arabs waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans in praise of "martyrs" during a march in Sakhnin to commemorate Land Day on Sunday. A picturesque Galilee backdrop of green hills was punctured by megaphone shouts in Arabic of "Do not worry, mother of martyr, your son did not die in vain," "We are with the youths who throw rocks," and "We do not fear Israel, the terrorist state." Police kept a low profile, monitoring the event from a helicopter high above and manning a checkpoint at the entrance to Sakhnin. In Hebrew, marchers chanted slogans against Defense Minister Ehud Barak, shouting, "Barak, how many children did you murder today?" The demonstrators marched from Sakhnin to the neighboring village of Arrabe, where they gathered in empty market stalls to mark 32 years since a demonstration in the area against government use of local lands degenerated into a bloody confrontation with security forces, resulting in the deaths of six people. "Thousands are here to express their view in a civilized manner," MK Ibrahim Sarsour (United Arab List-Ta'al) said. "We are not calling for independence or autonomy. Our slogan is that Israel needs to include the Arab minority in its national planning. We, the Arab minority, are out of the government's plans." As Sarsour spoke, hundreds of participants shouted, "Palestine is Arab and the Golan is Syrian!" Asked to respond to the chants around him, Sarsour said, "These calls are understandable," but added that "they have no place here." A short distance away, a struggle ensued for control of the microphone, as bearded youths took control and began shouting "Palestine!" Other youths covered their faces with keffiyehs and cheered. The show was short-lived, however, as other rally participants showed disapproval and regained control of the microphone after a brief scuffle. "This is the central Land Day event in the country," MK Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) said, as he walked at the front of the march with a number of village notables. "This symbolizes the fight of Arabs for existence in Israel. We're fighting waves of racism and fascism, with Knesset members like [NU/NRP's Effi] Eitam and [Israel Beiteinu chairman Avigdor] Lieberman competing over who can be the most racist." "We're not temporary visitors here, and we've seen harder days after 1948," he said, adding that there was no need to apologize over calls in favor of "martyrs." "Our language is not the language of the establishment," Barakei said. "A martyr is someone who sacrificed himself for his homeland, such as those who fell in 1976. This is our language, and it's the tongue we speak in. We don't speak in the language of racists." Other marchers, like Basher and Sahab, two young men from neighboring Nazareth, said they considered "suicide bombers from Gaza to be martyrs, too." "This is a holy day for us, a day of struggle," Basher said. "Every Israeli government has taken land in the Galilee and the Negev, and we're fighting against that. We want to remind the world that we're under occupation." Said Hasnen, an editor at the weekly Israeli-Arab newspaper Kul al-Arab, held a lively discussion with a friend while marching to Arrabe. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Hasnen called into question the historical attachment of Jews to Israel, saying, "The Torah mentions Palestine. We are the permanent ones here, Israel is the visitor." His friend, Hussein Kalaila, added, "Why should we be Israelis? I have a Palestinian identity. We are Palestinian Arabs in every way. This land is called Palestine." A statement released this week in honor of Land Day by the NGO Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said: "This colonial regime has now been in existence for over 60 years, on the basis of a Zionist ideology to control the 'Land of Israel'... The apartheid regime was overthrown in South Africa... such regimes have no place in this century."