Land Day protests in Israel: 'We will remain and will not move from here'
Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians from the West Bank commemorated Land Day on Thursday in towns and villages across Israel and the occupied West Bank.
In Deir Hanna, in northern Israel, thousands gathered at a large protest to commemorate the events of 1976, which saw six people killed by Israeli forces.
“For me, this day is not just to sit and to cry about something that happened 41 years ago,” Knesset member Aida Touma told MEE.
“But it’s about ongoing resistance to protect what’s left of the land and the homes for the Arab community inside Israel.”
Arab Israelis make up around 17.5 percent of the country's population and are descended from Palestinians who remained on their land after the creation of Israel in 1948.
They hold Israeli citizenship but most see themselves as Palestinians.
“For me, it is not just a day about remembering, it’s an ongoing battle until today, the land, for me, is about the space that represents our existence inside our homeland.
“It is the source of our life and the place of our homes.”
‘It’s about ongoing resistance to protect what’s left’
- MK Aida Touma
Earlier in the day, organisers gave lessons in two local Arab schools on Land Day and what it represents.
“We want the new generations to know about the land issue,” she said.
The 1976 protest against Israeli plans to seize large sections of land in northern Israel was met with a violent police response.
Muneeb Tarabieh, deputy mayor of nearby Sakhnin, an Arab city in northern Israel, told MEE that he has never felt welcome in his home land.
“I was born four days before Land Day, and grew up hearing stories of this day, and how our lands were confiscated by the Israeli authorities.
“I learned when I very young that we are not welcome in our home land.
“The Israelis are using this policy of evection against us, even though we are the original citizens of this land.
“Despite all the difficulties we face, we will remain in our lands and will not move from here.”
Jewish Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who is an outspoken critic of the Israeli government, spoke at the Deir Hanna rally.
“The way that you, the Arabs in Israel, are treated is not the same as the way Jewish Israelis are treated. You are seen by Israeli society as not deserving of the same rights as we deserve.”
MK Touma added that threats against Arab citizens of Israel were growing.
“We used to only have to defend our land, but now we also have to protect the roof over our heads,” she said, referring to the ongoing demolitions of Palestinian homes inside Israel.
“What’s left of our land is very limited, and it is limiting our ability to grow. It will eventually finish the Arab community in Israel.”
The Adalah organisation, which campaigns for the rights of Arabs in Israel, said in a statement on Thursday that Israeli authorities "persist in their discriminatory policies against Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel."
In January a local resident and a policeman died during a raid on the Bedouin Arab village of Umm al-Hiran in southern Israel to demolish a number of homes.