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Whose Land?

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eileen fleming
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On March 25, 2006, I connected just after dawn with a wide awake group of Israeli Jews and atheists to travel to the lower Galilee municipality of Sakhnin, an Arab village whose land continues to be stolen by the Israeli government.

Ronnie, from Canada 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.

Ronnie and I 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 and North of Nazareth, to be in solidarity with Batshalom's and The Women's Coalition for Peace and Justice kick off for the annual LAND DAY. Land Day began in 1976 after Israel confiscated acres of most fertile Palestinian land and the people took to the streets to demonstrate nonviolently. Six demonstrators died on that first day of commemoration, and across the Arab world all remember those martyrs on Land Day. The Israeli's had also placed land mines on the land and many of the farmers lost their lives or legs, so people quit caring for their groves and the Israeli government then declared the village of Sakhnin a military zone.

I was told that a few years prior, the President of Israel declared that the people of Sakhnin, a municipality deserved to have their land back. But the Israeli county of Misgav with the help of the Land Authority continue to collect taxes from them and still have not returned any land nor will they issue permits for Palestinians to build upon it.

About 100 progressive Israeli's, Arab Christians, Muslims, atheists and communists attended the tour of the area. That day, I also learned that in that part of the world there are many female Muslims who are radical feminists, well educated and articulate.

Terese told me, "In 2000 during Land Day, hundred's of nonviolent protestors 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," Lilly told me.

The speakers all spoke Arabic or Hebrew and if it hadn't been for a beautiful soul named Aliyah ["Go Up"] I would have been lost. Aliyah 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," she told me with a smile.

"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 Shatilla and Shabra. 18 years of Israel in Lebanon is what built up the Hezzbollah. The Israelis supported the group at first because they hoped the Hezzbolah would be against the Palestinian refugees in South Lebanon."

I asked, "Isn't that what Israel did with Hamas? Didn't they originally support Hamas to be a wedge against the PLO?"

"Yes, stupidity repeats itself!"

Aliyah translated that in the Northern part of Israel 53% of the population are Jews who control 80% of the land. Palestinians are 47% of the population with only 20% of the land.

Sakhnin has 25,000 people and less than 10,000 dunums of land but they only control half of that. In 1948 they owned and controlled 170,000 dunums.

Aliyah also explained to me that the Defense Industry and Army base complex a few miles from where we stood has a most mysterious warehouse. "No one knows what is going on inside, but it may be a nuclear reactor. The municipality asked the army to develop in another direction for there is a school over there too. The Israelis are allowed to expand anywhere, but the people of Sakhnin are not allowed permits to builds on their own land.

"I really became aware of what was going on in the '80's. I had been invited to a meeting of The Bridge for Peace and Coexistence, which is a group of Arab and Jewish activists. A man asked me where I was living and when I answered Bneitz-ion he calmly and politely told me "That is my Uncle's land."

Palestinian Land Day - Frequently Asked Questions
Date posted: March 29, 2004

1. What does Land Day commemorate?

Land Day, known as 'Youm al-Ard' in Arabic, commemorates the bloody killing of six Palestinians in the Galilee on March 30, 1976 by Israeli troops during peaceful protests over the confiscation of Palestinian lands.
It has since become a painful reminder of Israeli injustice and oppression against the Palestinian people, and a day for demonstration linking all Palestinians in their struggle against occupation, self-determination and national liberation.

2. What happened on Land Day?

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." The expropriated lands later fell subject to heavy illegal settlement expansion.
The confiscation of land led Palestinians within the 1948 borders to hold a general strike of repudiation, protesting the expropriation and colonization of their land.
Israeli army and police responded to the demonstrations with violence, killing 6 Palestinians, in addition to injuring 96 others and arresting over 300.
Arab villages and towns were declared as closed military zones by the Israeli authorities and a curfew imposed on a number of them.

3. How will Land Day be commemorated this year?

This year's commemoration will take place in the shadow of Israeli hostilities that has seen the murder of Palestinians escalating unchecked, continued land confiscation, closures, mass curfews and an Israeli separation wall fragmenting Palestinian territories, rendering them unviable.

4. How Much Land has been confiscated by Israel since Land Day in 1976?

Since 1967 Israel has confiscated more than 750,000 acres of land from the 1.5 million acres comprising the West Bank and Gaza.
Most of the land has been confiscated to make space for illegal settlement expansions, and bypass roads that are limited exclusively to Israeli settlers.
In 1948 and the subsequent few years, Israel confiscated nearly 85 percent of the territory within the Green Line from Palestinians. Most of this land was taken from the 800,000 Palestinian refugees, who were evicted or fled for fear of massacres during the 1948 war.

5. Is land still being confiscated by Israel?

As we mark the 28th anniversary of Palestinian "Land Day," Israel's illegal settlement expansion and land confiscation continues unabated, even at a time in which the need for reconciliation, peace and justice is more pressing than ever before.
Furthermore, the ongoing construction of the Israeli separation wall, which has been described by a UN report as a "creeping annexation", involves the confiscation of large amounts of fertile Palestinian land.
The separation wall will annex 45% of the West Bank territory, leaving all Palestinians to live in 12% of historical Palestine.
In the wall's first phase alone some 2850 acres of agricultural land were damaged.

6. How does Israel confiscate Palestinian Land?

In the areas occupied in 1967, Israel suffices itself with military orders, of which over 1300 have been issued so far, and which can be contested only with great difficulty. No cases of significance are known to have succeeded in reversing Israeli expropriation orders.
For the end of confiscation of lands and properties falling within Israel the Knesset (Israeli parliament) passed dozens of laws facilitating that end, such as the The Absentee Property law and the Development Authority (Transfer of Property) Law.

7. What is the Absentee Property law?

The law, which in Arabic is called 'Qanoon Elhader/Gayeb', adopted in March 1950, classified anyone who was a citizen or resident of one of the Arab states or a Palestinian citizen on 29 November, 1947 but had left his place of residence, even to take refuge within Palestine, as an 'absentee'. Absentee property was vested in the Custodian of Absentee Property who then 'sold' it to the Development Authority. This effectively authorized the theft of the property of a million Arabs, seized by Israel in 1948.

8. What is the Development Authority (Transfer of Property) Law?
The law, adopted in July 1950, was devised as a legal ploy to shield Israel's government from the accusation that it has confiscated abandoned property. The Development Authority is an independent body empowered to sell, buy, lease, exchange, repair, build, develop and cultivate Palestinian property. None of these transactions could take place except with a Jew or a Jewish entity.

9. Are there any relevant UN resolutions?

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 clearly asserts that the "...occupying power cannot move segments of its own population to parts of the land it occupies," or make any demographic or territorial changes that are not in the interest of the occupied.
Furthermore, provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention have unquestionably condemned Israel's settlement activities and demanded the ceasing of "all" settlement expansion by Israel.
UN Security Council Resolution 681 (1990) confirmed that the Forth Geneva Convention is applicable to the Occupied Territories and thus Israel's compliance mandatory.

10. Has the Israeli government changed its policies regarding land confiscation and settlement activity with the emergence of a peace process in 1994?

The Israeli government has evidently not made any efforts, or expressed willingness, to alter its policies. Israel continued to expropriate Palestinian lands and build illegal settlements, while concurrently engaged in the U.S. mediated peace plan that required it to cease all settlement expansion.
In fact settlement activity during those years saw an increase of almost 50% from 96,158 in June 1992 to 145,000 in June 1996.
Israeli confiscation and settlement policies were addressed in a number of initiatives such as the Mitchell Plan and the Road Map which aimed to restore the peace process, but were unsuccessful in eliciting Israeli compliance.

11. What needs to be done / What can be done?

The international community needs to decisively and effectively compel Israel to abide by the UN Security Council Resolutions, stop all land theft and cease all settlement activities on occupied Palestinian land.


Related Articles: Land Day 2004

Only, "In solidarity we have it in our power to begin the world again."-Tom Paine
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Eileen Fleming,is a Citizen of CONSCIENCE for US House of Representatives 2012 Founder of WeAreWideAwake.org Staff Member of Salem-news.com, A Feature Correspondent for Arabisto.com Producer "30 Minutes with Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu" (more...)
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