Mass Land Day demonstrations sweep Israel, Palestine
March 30, 2012
Tens of thousands of people participated in Land Day demonstrations in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Negev and the Galilee, as well as in Jordan and Lebanon. One person was killed, many were injured – several critically – and several were arrested in clashes with the Israeli army and police. Hamas and Fatah also attacked demonstrators.
Masses fleeing military attack in Qalandia (Oren Ziv / Activestills)
The village of Budrus was actually one of the quieter places to be today. This small yet ancient village, with lands on both sides of the green line, was one of the first to raise the flag of non-violent resistance to separation fence, and after a long struggle, regained 95 percent of the lands de-facto annexed to Israel by the construction of the barrier. The route of the fence was changed, an award-winning film was made about the local struggle, and many villages were inspired to take the same path of struggle. "Today’s demonstration is actually mainly symbolic," says local popular committee activist Ayed Morrar. "This is all about resisting the occupation and commemorating Land Day. Even though we were so successful in our struggle, the occupation lives on."
And so the demonstration started. Right after the Friday noon prayer, some 100 residents and five Israeli activists marched the short distance towards the infamous separation fence. It was a beautiful day, and one could see all the way to Tel Aviv – if one was to look over the fence that still steals 5 percent of the village’s agricultural lands. Once at the barrier, demonstrators started waving flags and chanting slogans about the people’s commitment to their land. From the other side of the fence, soldiers warned villagers to stay away from the fence, and after about five minutes started throwing stun grenades and firing tear gas into the non-violent crowd.
Within seconds, the atmosphere changed: the masses ran back toward the village, while a few youngsters stayed behind, throwing stones at the soldiers. Over the next two hours, the soldiers shot hundreds of tear gas canisters at the youth and the village, used the "skunk" water water cannon and the Long Range Acoustic Device (aka "the scream"). They would cross the fence three times, chasing the youth into the village, filling the narrow streets with the stench of tear gas, and then leave.
Demonstration at the fence in Budrus (Haggai Matar)
Between observing the demonstration-turned-confrontation and dodging tear gas canisters and clouds (not always successfully) – villagers and activists took out their phones to read tweets from all over the land: 100 demonstrators here, a few thousand there, reports of injuries here, Palestinian police assisting the IDF there. Everybody tweeted, retweeted and countertweeted, spreading news from demonstrators, commenting on IDF spokesperson claims, etc.
Summing up varied reports, tweets, news agency sites and messages from activists from different locations, here’s a short run-down of Friday activities against occupation, apartheid and land appropriations:
The day started with a small tree-planting activity in Beit Jala. Some 90 farmers and supporters went to the east of the town and planted trees on the planned route of the wall near Al-Walaje. The action ended peacefully.
Shortly after that, a mass demonstration took place in Bethlehem. Some 1,000 people marched towards the checkpoint on the way to Jerusalem, where they were confronted by Palestinian police. After succeeding to break police lines, demonstrators reached the wall, and some started throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the watchtower. Soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets, causing several severe injuries.
Meanwhile in Qalandia, as Mya and Omar reported earlier, a crowd of another thousand people marched towards the checkpoint, and were also met by Palestinian police. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Mubadara (Initiative) party, was injured in confrontations that erupted, most likely by either police or activists from rival factions. However, several journalists at the scene mentioned that some 100 demonstrators were hospitalized after being hit by tear gas canisters and rubber-coated bullets. Demonstrators responded with stones and Molotov cocktails. Three international activists were arrested.
(Demonstrations and confrontations in Qalandia, Jerusalem and Bethlehem – Russia Today)
At around the same time, demonstrations began in several locations in East Jerusalem. Activists reported Israeli police arrived at the demonstrations heavily armed, with many policemen on horseback. Dozens of demonstrators were reported injured, including one severe injury caused by a police horse. Many were arrested.
After the noon prayer, demonstrations began in most of the villages that lead the popular struggle – where the focus of the protest was both Land Day and the demand to release political prisoners, especially Hana Shalabi and other administrative detainees on hunger strikes. In Nil’in, more than 200 local and Israeli activists marched towards the wall, where they were met by dozens of soldiers. Gas and stones were exchanged for about an hour. In Bil’in, dozens of demonstrators were successful in cutting a fragment of the fence surrounding the wall, before they were scattered with tear gas. In Qaddum and Nabi Saleh, army forces tried to prevent Israelis from joining the demonstrations, but about 20 were able to answer the Palestinian invite and attend the protest. LRAD, "skunk" spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds were used. One child was injured and evacuated from the scene by ambulance, and several others were lightly hurt.
Palestinian cutting a fence in Bil'in (Rani Bornat)
Meanwhile in the Gaza Strip, two demonstrations numbering some 1,500 proceeded towards the wall, which imprisons civilians living in one of the most densely populated areas on earth. Like the Fatah police in the West Bank, Hamas security forces also tried to prevent demonstrators from reaching the border, also using violence. However, they failed to stop the march. Tens of people were shot by the IDF. Three were critically wounded, and according to a recent report – one of them, 20-year-old Mahmoud Zaqouq, died from his injuries.
Two mass demonstrations also took place in the afternoon within Israel’s 1948 borders. In Wadi Al-Nam in the Negev, 2,500 people gathered to protest the Prawer Plan. The demonstration was attended by local Bedouin residents, Knesset members and Jewish and Arab activists from different NGOs and parties.
The second demonstration took place in the Sakhnin and Dir Hanna in the Galilee – where the first Land Day demonstrations took place in 1976. Some 8,000 people marched the 12.5 kilometers between the two towns, protesting the government’s land grabs in the area. Minor confrontations broke out between activists from Balad and those from the communist party, but ended peacefully.
Tens of thousands of people were also reportedly gathered near the borders with Lebanon and Jordan, and a demonstration is also said to have taken place in the Syrian capital of Damascus. While the two former were organized mainly by refugees, the latter included a message of support for President Assad, and could have been organized by the govenment.
Confrontations in Qalandia (Oren Ziv / Activestills)
Earlier in the week, prominent jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti published a statement encouraging Palestinians to abandon non-existent negotiations withIsrael, seeing as the latter appears to be completely uninterested in ending the occupation. Barghouti also called for a third Intifada, a popular and un-armed struggle. It is yet to be seen whether today’s events are another step in that direction.
International activist arrested in Qalandia (Oren Ziv / Activestills)
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