This March 30th marks the 31st year Palestinians throughout the world remember Land Day or 'Youm al-Ard' in Arabic. On March 30, 1976, in the Galilee, during a peaceful protest, six unarmed Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army and police, who also injured 96 others and arrested over 300.
The demonstration was prompted after Israeli authorities announced the confiscation of a total of 5,500 acres of land from Palestinian villages in the Galilee , and classified them as "closed military zones."
On March 25, 2006 , while in Jerusalem, this reporter connected just after dawn with a wide awake group of Israeli Jews to travel north to the lower Galilee municipality of Sakhnin, an Arab village whose land continues to be grabbed and colonized by Israel .
Ronnie, a Canadian moved to Israel with the desire to help build a civil society. She is a co-founder of Women in Black and active with Machsom Watch/women at the checkpoints who watch for and report on human rights abuse.
We both laughed when she told me, "A friend told me that I am so Left that if I ever gets to heaven I will probably argue with God that those in hell just didn't get a fair deal…Religion is used as a cover, but it's all about the land! It's convenient to claim one is doing something for God but the laws are made to take the land. We don't have settlers in Israel -the common name for illegal colonists in the West Bank-we just take it! First it is claimed to be for military reasons then it'll become a park or agricultural land that the state has confiscated.
"The Palestinians who did not leave in '48 but remained here still have lost their land. They can't get permits to build... I am opposed to the occupation and as an Israeli Jew I want to see justice for all...and I refuse to be enemies with anyone."
We traveled three hours from Jerusalem to be in solidarity with over 100 progressive Israeli's, Arab Christians, Muslims, atheists and communists who attended a tour of the area and conference coordinated by Batshalom's and The Women's Coalition for Peace and Justice.
This reporter was informed that not only had Israel confiscated acres of the most fertile of Palestinian land they had also placed land mines on the land. Many farmers and other innocent ones had lost their lives or legs, so people had quit caring for their groves and the Israeli government declared the village of Sakhnin a military zone.
A few years prior, the President of Israel had declared that the people of Sakhnin, a municipality deserved to have their land back. But the Israeli county of Misgav, abetted by the Israeli Land Authority continues to collect taxes from them but still have not returned any land nor have they issued any permits for Palestinians to build.
Israeli peace activist's commented, "In 2000 during Land Day, hundred's of nonviolent protesters were arrested and we were hit with tear gas and rubber bullets. Name it and we have had it!"
"I am an Israeli Jew and I am responsible to change something about this situation. We all need to do this together."
The speakers all spoke in Arabic or Hebrew, and my interpreter was Aliyah [Hebrew for "Go Up"], who was born in St. Louis, grew up in Cleveland and moved to Israel in 1948.
"My Father was born in Jerusalem and I was a Zionist, but now I am not so sure. I still want the Jewish people to have a state but it must be honest and moral, I don't want a piranha state! Before 1967 I was euphoric! My husband and I began to learn that there were Israelis who you could call prophets, who said we must return the land and make peace. Then a fundamentalist Jewish group, The Gush Emunim began erecting the settlements in the newly possessed land.
"When Israel went into Lebanon I was infuriated! I demonstrated against the massacres at Shatila and Shabra. Eighteen years of Israel in Lebanon is what built up the Hezbollah! The Israelis supported the group at first because they hoped the Hezbollah would be against the Palestinian refugees in South Lebanon."
I inquired, "Isn't that what Israel did with Hamas? Didn't they originally support Hamas to be a wedge against the PLO?"