Coronavirus: Palestinians cancel Land Day demonstrations for the first time
Palestinians across Israel, the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the besieged Gaza Strip have cancelled commemoration activities for Land Day for the first time since they began in 1976, amid fears of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Israel, 16 death have been recorded thus far due to the coronavirus, with a total of more than 4,000 confirmed cases. Meanwhile, the occupied Palestinian territories have recorded one death and 118 cases of the virus.
Representatives of the Palestinian-majority towns of Sakhnin, Araba and Deir Hanna inside Israel put wreaths on the graves of the six Palestinians killed by Israeli forces on 30 March 1976, whose deaths have been commemorated on Land Day ever since.
The six Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed while protesting against the confiscation of their land by Israel. Since then, Palestinians have marked the day for 44 years with different activities, including marches and national festivals, to denounce Israeli expropriation and occupation of Palestinian lands.
But for the very first time in over four decades, mass gatherings for the occasion were put on hold because of coronavirus.
Qassem al-Bakri, a Palestinian political activist from the town of al-Bina inside Israel, told Middle East Eye that the cancellation of activities came as very sad news to many in the community.
“Every year, my wife, my mother and I participate in marches and activities for Land Day, but sadly this year we will only participate in a virtual protest online and will sing the national anthem and raise Palestinian flags,” Bakri said.
“This is a symbolic message to say that we have not forgotten Land Day,” he added.
Monday also marks two years since Palestinians in Gaza began staging the Great March of Return, a demonstration movement calling for the lifting of the siege on Gaza and the implementation of the right of return for Palestinian refugees, as enshrined in UN Resolution 194.
Ahmed Abu Artema, one of the organisers of the movement, told MEE that the decision not to publicly commemorate Land Day and resume activities as part of the Great March of Return was “not political, but stems from the emergency situation the world is living at the moment”.
“On this day two years ago, we reached an important stage in our struggle. Thousands of people protested peacefully, and after 70 years, Palestinians are still insisting on their return to their ancestors' lands,” Abu Artema said.
More than 270 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during march of return protests along the separation fence between Israel and Gaza.
Abu Artema said that the spread of the coronavirus in Gaza - which the UN has long warned would become uninhabitable in 2020 - would be a catastrophe.
Gaza has recorded nine confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Friday.
"After 13 years of Israeli land, sea and air siege, the medical system and hospitals in the Gaza Strip are in a dire situation and not ready for a pandemic," he said.